As education policy moved to the forefront of our national political discourse this fall, support for school choice programs increased in October, Morning Consult’s monthly school choice tracking poll for EdChoice shows.

Far from being “controversial,” school choice programs remain strongly popular nationwide and gained popularity as the debate over the role of parents in education intensified.

Nationally, 80 percent of parents with school age children expressed support for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) in October.  Seventy-six percent support voucher programs and 75 percent support charter schools.

Among adults, strong majorities also supported school choice programs, with 70 percent supporting ESAs, 64 percent supporting vouchers, and 67 percent supporting charter schools.

Support for ESAs in New Hampshire remains high, with support from 71 percent of parents and 67 percent of the public favoring them, according to the poll.

This fall, New Hampshire launched a new Education Savings Account program, called Education Freedom Accounts. With an Education Freedom Account, a family can use a state grant to pay for the educational services they choose. That can be tuition at another public or private school, home-education materials, tutoring, community college courses, online classes, special education services, or other approved educational services.

You cam learn more about EFAs, and how to apply, at the Children’s Scholarship Fund.

For more information about school choice in New Hampshire, including EFAs, see the Education section of our website.

For more details on the Morning Consult Polling, visit https://edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com/

A college degree is a major investment in a better economic future, high school students are constantly told. But that isn’t always true. More than a quarter of college majors produce a negative return on investment, according to a study by Preston Cooper at the Foundation for Research on Economic Opportunity. 

A lot of studies have shown that STEM and business degrees pay better over a career than degrees such as psychology and education. (Here’s one Georgetown University did a few years ago.) 

Cooper’s study adds real value to the debate by ranking degrees based on the financial return on the student’s investment, not just lifetime earnings. Many studies simply point out that earning a degree leads to X average lifetime earnings. But getting the degree is costly, and that includes opportunity costs (foregone earnings while in school and in a career that didn’t require a college degree). Those costs have to be subtracted from the future earnings to get an accurate understanding of a degree’s value. 

Cooper also creates a searchable database that lets students compare nearly 30,000 degree programs at 1,775 colleges and universities. There’s a real difference in value not just among degrees, but among the same degree at different institutions, and this study explores that in detail. 

“The analysis reveals that a student’s choice of program is perhaps the most important financial decision he or she will ever make,” Cooper writes. “Most bachelor’s degree programs in engineering, computer science, economics, and nursing increase lifetime earnings by $500,000 or more, even after subtracting the costs of college. But most programs in fields such as art, music, philosophy, religion, and psychology leave students financially worse off than if they had never gone to college at all.”

Among the findings: 

  • For students who graduate on time, the median bachelor’s degree has a net ROI of $306,000. But some degrees are worth millions of dollars, while others have no net financial value at all.
  • After accounting for the risk of dropping out, ROI for the median bachelor’s degree drops to $129,000. Over a quarter of programs have negative ROI.
  • College rankings like the U.S. News and World Report emphasize choice of institution. But from a financial perspective, choice of major is the more important consideration. Major alone explains nearly half the variation in ROI. Students will have a much greater chance of financial success if they study engineering, computer science, nursing, or economics, rather than art, music, religion, psychology, or education.
  • Thirty-seven percent of programs do not deliver a financial return when adjusting for spending and completion. Another 32% have a lifetime ROI below $250,000.
  • Assuming students graduate in four years, 16% of college degrees have a negative return on investment. But many students take five or six years to graduate. Adjusting for actual completion times, 28% of degrees are found to have a negative return.
  • Programs at the most expensive schools (those with net tuition above $12,700) have a median completion-adjusted ROI of $198,000, compared to $129,000 for all programs. On average, the higher payoff from more expensive schools is enough to make the heftier tuition bill worth it.
  • Though elite colleges dominate the list of top programs in the country, attending an elite school is no golden ticket. Over 100 programs at colleges with an acceptance rate below 20% have negative ROI. Several U.S. News juggernauts such as Harvard, Penn, and Chicago all offer at least one program that leaves its students financially worse off.
  • At Harvard University, students who major in ethnic and gender studies can expect an ROI of negative $47,000. The film and photographic arts program at the University of Pennsylvania has an ROI of negative $140,000. Seventeen different programs at New York University have negative ROI, with the worst among them (music) leaving students over $500,000 in the hole.

Another blow to the argument for “free college” 

The study’s findings can be added to the list of reasons why “free college” for all is a bad idea. 

First, most degrees pay for themselves many times over, so there’s no need for the government to subsidize them. 

One might argue that the government should subsidize degrees such as psychology and education that produce a low or even negative financial return because they are valuable to society as a whole. 

But that assumes that the content of those programs is inherently valuable, when it might be the case that the programs struggle to produce larger returns because they are poor programs. 

The study finds that some education and psychology degrees produce large returns, though the median program produces poor returns. That suggests that some programs are of much higher quality than others. Subsidizing all degrees in a particular field would provide taxpayer support for mediocre and poor programs, preventing market incentives from improving those programs.

A better option would be to provide prospective students with data on long-term earnings for various programs. Over time, that would lead to improvements in the lower-performing programs, whereas government subsidies would provide those programs with steady cashflows regardless of their performance. 

A quick look at UNH

How does the University of New Hampshire stack up? Here’s a look at two majors, Animal Sciences and Business Administration. UNH generally ranks well on longer-term earnings vs. other public universities in the region. 

The median earnings for an Animal Sciences major at age 45 are $64,076 at UNH, $54,423 at the University of Connecticut, $53,112 at the University of Rhode Island, $54,643 at the University of Vermont, $61,251 at the University of Maine, and $55,160 at UMass-Amherst. (But they’re $88,314 at Auburn University.)

The median earnings for a Business Administration major at age 45 are $101,903 at UNH, $124,785 at Boston University, $88,364 at Granite State College, $74,587 at Keene State College, $77,070 at New England College, $112,671 at New England College of Business and Finance, $100,237 at New England Institute of Technology, $131,372 at Northeastern University, $74,488 at Plymouth State University, $97,549 at Southern New Hampshire University, $85,514 at Suffolk University, $101,943 at the University of Connecticut, $72,660 at the University of Maine, $78,154 at the University of Hartford, $108,619 at UMass-Amherst, $73,692 at the University of New England, $95,622 at the University of Rhode Island, and $92,148 at the University of Vermont.

Below are the earnings at ages 25, 35, and 45 for all UNH majors covered in the study. 

You can search the database here (about halfway down the page). 

 

University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Agricultural Production Operations. $27,322 $36,157 $40,217
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Animal Sciences. $30,783 $53,826 $64,076
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Anthropology. $26,498 $45,574 $50,798
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology. $44,520 $91,483 $106,677
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Other. $36,109 $65,240 $69,686
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Biology, General. $39,139 $79,726 $90,553
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Business Administration, Management and Operations. $53,050 $90,855 $101,903
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Chemical Engineering. $66,348 $96,549 $119,263
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Chemistry. $43,960 $79,179 $93,577
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Civil Engineering. $58,541 $93,959 $110,601
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Communication and Media Studies. $43,363 $80,693 $86,509
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Communication Disorders Sciences and Services. $20,388 $28,216 $31,515
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Computer and Information Sciences, General. $73,098 $118,834 $138,388
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Computer Engineering. $71,595 $122,339 $132,446
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Criminology. $36,490 $59,905 $66,479
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Drama/Theatre Arts and Stagecraft. $27,227 $47,367 $54,268
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Economics. $49,684 $83,330 $89,508
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering. $69,454 $112,119 $132,842
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus English Language and Literature, General. $30,296 $51,041 $56,630
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Environmental/Environmental Health Engineering. $52,699 $82,893 $109,012
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Ethnic, Cultural Minority, Gender, and Group Studies. $27,826 $48,179 $49,207
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Fine and Studio Arts. $24,571 $38,649 $40,419
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Genetics. $44,431 $86,481 $99,976
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Geography and Cartography. $28,950 $46,774 $51,320
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Health and Medical Administrative Services. $50,711 $77,632 $93,663

More than 1,000 New Hampshire families have applied for one of the state’s new Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs), showing strong demand for a program that offers many lower-income families their first real alternative to their assigned public school. Sadly, opponents of the program have cited this strong interest as a reason to prevent the program from growing.

Opponents claim the program will cost taxpayers too much money, so it should be capped. In fact, the program will save taxpayers millions. And the more public school students who take an EFA, the more taxpayers will save.

Authorized by the Legislature this year, Education Freedom Accounts allow families with incomes of no more than 300% of the federal poverty level to spend their state adequate education grant on educational services of their choice (from an approved state list). EFAs involve only state education grants; all local taxpayer money remains in the public schools.

The average cost of each EFA is expected to be approximately $4,600. For context, the state Department of Education projects the average per student expenditure in New Hampshire public schools in 2020-21 to be $21,401.

EFAs educate students for less than a quarter of what taxpayers currently spend, on average.

About 1,500 families have applied for an EFA for this fall, according to news reports. If each application is approved, opponents argue, the program will cost the state $7 million this year, which is more than the state budgeted for the program. Opponents simply multiply the $4,600 average EFA grant by 1,500 students. (The total with these round numbers would be $6.9 million.)

But that number is misleading because it overestimates the cost to the state and doesn’t count the savings to local school districts.

First, let’s consider that number in the larger context of education spending in New Hampshire. The total spending on public education in the 2020-21 school year was more than $3.3 billion. The state portion of the spending at the end of the 2021 fiscal year was just over $769 million.

This would mean that even if EFAs were to cost the state $7 million this year, that figure would amount to less than 1% of state spending for public education and 0.2% of the total education spending.

The actual percentage will be much smaller, though, because many EFA students are already enrolled in public schools. For any student who is leaving a district public school, the EFA grant he or she will receive does not represent new spending. It’s money already budgeted for that student’s education. The state just deposits it into the family’s EFA instead of the school district’s bank account, so there is no change to the state portion of the funding.

At the local level, the school district keeps every dollar raised by local taxation. It remains with the school district even though the student does not. Thus, more money is left for fewer students.

The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy studied the financial impact of the EFA program earlier this year. Our analysis projected that taxpayers would save $6.65 million in the first two years of the program based on a conservative estimate of EFA enrollment.

We estimated that 966 students would use an EFA this year and 2,335 would use one next year. If first-year enrollment is closer to 1,500 students, state costs will a little higher, somewhere just above $1 million, roughly. But total taxpayer savings will also be higher, closer to $3 million instead of our projected $1.85 million.

The additional costs over what were budgeted are tiny — a few million dollars out of $769 million in state-funded education spending (and $3.3 billion in total New Hampshire education spending).

From a financial point of view, there’s no reason to cap EFA enrollment based on the interest parents have shown in the program this fall.

From a humanitarian point of view, a cap would be bad for children.

While the political conversation has focused on costs, the argument about educational choice is not fundamentally an economic one. It’s about who gets to decide how each child is educated.

First, it’s obvious that the objections to EFAs aren’t really about costs. Just consider the following scenario.

Imagine that legislators enacted a program that attracted 1,500 students out of private schools and homeschooling and into local public schools. That program would represent somewhere between $21 million and $32 million in increased cost to our public education system.

Does anyone believe that EFA opponents would object to this program because of the increased costs? Of course not. They would cheer the growth in public school enrollment.

The argument against EFAs is not about costs. It is about who gets to control education and education spending – parents or school districts.

As good as New Hampshire public schools are, not every child is successful in a traditional public school. EFAs let those students seek alternatives that work for them. That’s all.

Parents ought to have that option. Opponents know that most parents agree. So they try to attack the program by claiming it costs too much. It doesn’t. What’s really costly is limiting children’s futures by forcing them to stay in schools that don’t work for them.

What is an Education Freedom Account (EFA)?

An Education Freedom Account (EFA) is a government-approved savings account that can be used to pay for various educational expenses.  EFAs let families use their state per-pupil adequate education grant to purchase educational services outside of their assigned public school.  The grant amount will vary by student.  The average grant is estimated to be about $4,600 per student in the 2021-2022 school year.

Why Would I Want an EFA?

Not every child thrives in his or her assigned public school.  With an EFA, families can get help paying for an alternative education.  An EFA puts the family, rather than the school district, in charge of a child’s education dollars.  It allows families the freedom to choose the schooling option that works best for their children.

Who is Eligible for an EFA?

The eligibility requirements are fairly simple.  A New Hampshire resident who is eligible to enroll in a public K-12 school, and whose family earns no more than 300% of the federal poverty level, is eligible for an EFA.  School-age students who meet the income requirement can qualify for an EFA even if they are currently home-schooled enrolled in a private school.

The income eligibility (300% of the federal poverty level) breaks down as follows:

 

Household size Annual Income
2 $52,260
3 $65,880
4 $79,500
5 $93,120
6 $106,740

 

What Types of Education Expenses are Eligible for EFA Funding?

  • Private School Tuition
  • Community College Courses
  • Curriculum for homeschooling
  • Fees for national tests
  • Educational Therapies
  • School supplies
  • Tuition to another public school
  • And More! *Scroll to the bottom for a complete list of eligible expenses

How Can I Apply for an EFA?

Children’s Scholarship Fund NH administers the program. Apply through their website at https://nh.scholarshipfund.org/apply/nh-education-freedom-accounts/

How do I Use the EFA Money?

The state deposits money quarterly into the EFA. Children’s Scholarship Fund NH provides an online platform, Classwallet, that makes payments to education vendors or for other approved expenses (third party payment, similar to Pay Pal).

Where Can I Find More Info about EFAs?

 

Full list of qualifying EFA expenses:

(a)  Tuition and fees at a private school.

(b)  Tuition and fees for non-public online learning programs.

(c)  Tutoring services provided by an individual or a tutoring facility.

(d)  Services contracted for and provided by a district public school, chartered public school, public academy, or independent school, including, but not limited to, individual classes and curricular activities and programs.

(e)  Textbooks, curriculum, or other instructional materials, including, but not limited to, any supplemental materials or associated online instruction required by either a curriculum or an education service provider.

(f)  Computer hardware, Internet connectivity, or other technological services and devices, that are primarily used to help meet an EFA student’s educational needs.

(g)  Educational software and applications.

(h)  School uniforms.

(i)  Fees for nationally standardized assessments, advanced placement examinations, examinations related to college or university admission or awarding of credits and tuition and/or fees for preparatory courses for such exams.

(j)  Tuition and fees for summer education programs and specialized education programs.

(k)  Tuition, fees, instructional materials, and examination fees at a career or technical school.

(l)  Educational services and therapies, including, but not limited to, occupational, behavioral, physical, speech-language, and audiology therapies.

(m)  Tuition and fees at an institution of higher education.

(n)  Fees for transportation paid to a fee-for-service transportation provider for the student to travel to and from an education service provider.

(o)  Any other educational expense approved by the scholarship organization.

This year’s state budget, up for a vote on Thursday, contains an Education Freedom Account (EFA) program to give families more options for educating their children. Here is a quick summary of who has similar programs and how this one would work.

What is an EFA?

Nationally, these programs are known as Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). New Hampshire being New Hampshire, ours is called an Education Freedom Account.  Like other ESAs, it consists of a government-approved savings account that can be used for authorized educational expenses only.

The media routinely refer to the EFA program as a voucher, but it is not. Traditional vouchers pay for school tuition by sending a state payment directly to an education provider. An EFA does not work that way. With an EFA, the state deposits a student’s education grant into an approved savings account that is controlled by the parent. The parent may then choose to spend those funds on a list of approved educational expenses.

These restricted-use savings accounts are similar to a health savings account. Expenditures are limited to a list of legislatively approved uses. Qualified educational expenses include, to name a few, tuition and fees to private schools or other public schools, tuition and fees for non-public online learning programs, tutoring services, textbooks, curricula and other instructional materials, computer hardware, internet connectivity, other tech services, school uniforms, and educational services and therapies.

Where did EFAs come from?

Education Savings Accounts have been around for more than a decade and have been growing in popularity.

In 2020, five states had ESA programs: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Arizona’s program started in 2011. About 4% of eligible students are participating in Arizona’s ESA program.

So far this year, 11 states have already passed at least one new or expanded educational choice bill, and legislation is pending in other states.

Kentucky and Missouri both passed ESA programs funded by donations for which donors erceive tax credits.

Indiana has created a new publicly funded ESA program to assist students with special needs and expanded the state’s tax-credit scholarships (both were passed in the two-year state budget).

West Virginia has passed an ESA program called the Hope Scholarship in which every student entering kindergarten or switching from public school is eligible for 100% of his or state education funds (about $4,600).

What do EFAs look like in New Hampshire?

New Hampshire’s EFA program has an income eligibility cap of 300% of the federal poverty level ($79,500 for a family of four).  The Josiah Bartlett Center estimates that just over 30 percent of New Hampshire families of school age children would qualify to apply for the program.

If approved, a family would have its state per-pupil education grant deposited into the EFA instead of sent to the district school. According to state Dept. of Education, the grant would average about $4,600 per student in the 2021-22 school year. As mentioned above, families could then use these funds to pay for a variety of educational expenses.

For the vast majority of students, the state will continue sending the adequate education grant directly to their assigned public school. But for families who choose an EFA, the money goes into the savings account. The Josiah Bartlett Center estimates that fewer than 1,000 students would take an EFA in the first year and around 2,000 in the second year. (You can read our study of the EFA proposal here.)

Our research also shows that Education Freedom Accounts would not raise property taxes or destroy school budgets. State aid to local schools would decline by only 0.024% in the second year of the program. And taxpayers would actually save $6.65 million in the first two years.

EFAs would not be the first educational choice program in New Hampshire. The state already has an education tax credit (ETC) scholarship for low-to-middle income families. Charter schools are independent public schools that exist in some communities. And, towns have long been allowed to tuition students to other schools.

These other choice options are extremely limited and are not available to many Granite State students. The Children’s Scholarship Fund-N.H., for example, manages a tax credit scholarship program that helped 626 students in the 2020-2021 school year. But about 800 students were left on a wait list.

Families of greater means have greater educational options. They can choose private schools or move to another school district. Education Freedom Accounts would offer lower-income families the ability to get the best education for their children too.

Funding public education doesn’t mean funding a school building. It means providing each student with the education that best fits that student’s needs. EFAs offer families a way to match their children with the education that works best for them.

The New Hampshire Senate has rolled into its budget a bill (Senate Bill 130) to create Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs), which would give lower-income families the option of choosing the school that best fits their child’s needs. Critics say they would defund public schools. But this isn’t true. EFAs would save taxpayers money while giving families more educational options.

In New Hampshire’s current education funding system, the state directs $3,708.78 in “base adequacy aid” to public schools for each student enrolled. This funding is supplemented for students with additional needs. Students who qualify for special education services, free and reduced-priced lunch, or who are English language learners receive additional funds.

The EFA legislation would let parents who earn no more than 300% of the federal poverty level apply for a state-approved Education Freedom Account. Any family approved for EFA would have its state per-pupil funding deposited into the EFA, which is a restricted savings account. Money in the account could be used only for approved educational expenses.

How would this affect public school spending?

The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy analyzed the fiscal impact of the bill this spring, and our report concluded that the cost of the program to the state would be approximately $2.4 million in the 2021-2022 school year and $5.9 million in the 2022-2023 school year.

The state Department of Education has estimated total expenditures in public education will be somewhere around $3.5 billion, and the state portion will be just above $1 billion in each of the next two school years.

The estimated $2.4 million price tag, if you will, for ESAs in 2021-2022 would be just 0.24% of state education spending and a mere 0.07% of the total projected expenditures on public education in New Hampshire when local and federal funds are included.

The $5.9 million cost in 2022-2023 is still only 0.59% of the projected state expenditures.

On the local side, EFAs would result in savings, not increased expenses.

As mentioned above, the state portion of education expenditures is less than 30% of the total education funding in New Hampshire. In the 2019-2020 school year, 62.6% of total education expenditures in New Hampshire were provided by local taxation.

A student whose family chooses an ESA instead of  his or her assigned public school would receive an average of $4,578 in state per-pupil funding in 2021-2022 and $4,803 in 2022-2023.  This money would leave a district school. But so would the student, and thus, the need to spend additional money raised by local taxation to educate that student.

Our study projects that school districts would save $4.2 million in 2021-2022 and $10.7 million in 2022-2023. Subtracting the cost to the state of $2.4 million and $5.9 million, you get a net taxpayer savings of $1.85 million in the first year and $4.8 million in the second year.

Although saving money is not the primary intent of this policy, EFAs would lead to an estimated $6.65 million in net taxpayer savings in the first two years of the program alone.

The fear mongering claim that EFAs would “defund public schools” just isn’t true. They would save taxpayers money while providing students who don’t succeed in their assigned public school a much-needed option for finding a school that works for them.

EFAs are not an attempt to defund public schools or “privatize education.” The EFA legislation incorporated into the state budget would do neither of those things. It would provide an alternative way to fund public education for lower-income New Hampshire families whose children need educational options that might not be available through their assigned district school.

EFAs would account for less than 1% of projected state education expenditures and save local taxpayers $6.65 million over the next two school years. That would be good deal for both students and taxpayers.

The state Senate on Thursday voted to repeal two state laws that unconstitutionally exclude religious schools from participating in state education tuitioning programs. Both bills were previously approved by the House.

House Bill 282 repeals the state’s prohibition (in RSA 193:1) on religious schools participating in town tuition programs. 

State law allows local governments to assign students to a non-public school when the resident district lacks a public school of the same grade span. A town that has no high school, for example, can pay a private high school to take the town’s students. 

However, the law forbids religious schools from participating in these tuition programs. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2019 in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that such exclusions are unconstitutional because they deprive religious institutions of equal treatment solely by virtue of their religious status. 

A state may not exclude religious schools from a public benefit simply because they are religious schools. 

“A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” the court held.

Quoting a similar previous case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the court pointed out that the “Free Exercise Clause, which applies to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment, ‘protects religious observers against unequal treatment’ and against ‘laws that impose special disabilities on the basis of religious status.’”

Another state law allows school districts to send students to public schools and public academies if those students are determined to have suffered a “manifest educational hardship” at their assigned school. It also excludes “sectarian” schools. 

Senators on Thursday passed House Bill 388, which would allow districts to send students in these circumstances to private as well as public schools. The bill also strikes the word “sectarian” from the statute, thus incorporating religious schools into the program. 

Critics have said that these bills violate the First Amendment’s required separation of church and state and amount to a giveaway to religious schools. The truth is precisely the opposite. 

The state is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution from denying religious institutions from participating in an otherwise neutral program, including town tuition contracting, solely because those institutions are religious. The existing laws, not the bills, are in violation of the Constitution. 

The effect of House Bills 282 and 388 is to ensure that these laws governing school tuition contracts are constitutional. 

A new UNH poll purports to show that Education Savings Accounts are unpopular in New Hampshire. That would be surprising because plenty of other survey data, including previous UNH polling, shows that ESAs (and school choice in general) draw more support than opposition. 

One look at the wording of the UNH Survey Center’s poll question shows that it’s deeply flawed. 

With public opinion polling, it’s critical to word the questions carefully and properly. 

For example, if you ask “Do like cake,” you’ll likely get a different answer than if you ask, “Do you like high-fat, high-calorie baked dessert breads covered in artery-clogging icing?”

People know what cake is, so you don’t have to describe or explain it. But most people don’t know what Education Savings Accounts are (past UNH polling shows this). So it’s critical that they be described accurately so people can offer an informed opinion. 

The UNH Survey Center has been careful with this question in the past. This time, it wasn’t, and the results were different than those produced by other surveys of ESA support. 

In 2018, the last time the Legislature considered an ESA bill, the UNH Survey Center offered an accurate description that informed the respondent. Even so, most people weren’t familiar with the concept. The pollster then tried to gauge the support only of those who said they had at least a little bit of knowledge about the legislation.

Here are the questions the UNH Survey Center asked in its February, 2018 poll:

“As you may know, the New Hampshire legislature is considering legislation that would create Education Savings Accounts, which would allow parents to receive a state-funded scholarship to use for education costs such as tuition, testing, fees, and books. If that child is not in their public school. How much have you seen or read about this bil, a great deal, a moderate amount, only a little, or nothing at all?”

“Supporters of the legislation say it will give parents more choice when it comes to their children’s education while opponents say it will take away state money that should be spent on public schools. Would you support or oppose this legislation or don’t you know enough about this to say?”

The first question correctly described ESAs as scholarships that could be spent on a variety of education expenses outside of a child’s assigned public school.

That poll found 40% support for ESAs, with only 33% opposed, 9% staying neutral and 18% saying they don’t know enough about the issue.

Contrast that with the March 2021 poll. 

It asked this question: 

“The New Hampshire Legislature is considering a bill that would create a voucher system, called “education freedom accounts” by supporters, that would give parents access to public dollars that could be put toward private schools (not colleges) for their children.”

That question generated the response that 35% support and 45% oppose. 

But the question inaccurately describes the EFA program in SB 130.

First, it describes EFAs as “vouchers,” which is not true. A voucher sends money directly to an education provider. EFAs create savings accounts controlled by parents, who then get to decide which state-approved education services to purchase. 

Second, it states only that the money goes to private schools other than colleges. That is misleading.

The EFA money does not go straight, or exclusively, to private schools. An EFA is a savings account that parents control, bounded by limits set in statute. Families could use the money for a long list of approved education expenses, including tuition at an out-of-district public school as well as a private school, tutoring, special education services, textbooks and curricula, tuition for individual classes at public and private schools as well as colleges, career and technical education, online classes, and more.

SB 130 also limits eligibility for EFAs to families with incomes of no more than 300% of the federal poverty level, would use only each student’s state adequate education grant, leaving local school funding untouched, and provides additional funding to public schools for each student who choses an EFA during the first three years of the program. 

No one listening to the UNH pollster would know any of that. 

When Education Savings Accounts and other forms of school choice are described accurately, polling shows that they tend to have strong support, particularly among lower-income and minority parents.

EdChoice has surveyed New Hampshire residents on this very issue. Its poll, conducted by Morning Consult, asks two questions.

In the first, it doesn’t describe ESAs. That question asks:

“Based on what you know or have heard from others, in general, what is your opinion of Education Savings Accounts?”

That question finds 39% support for ESAs, almost exactly what the UNH Survey Center found by inaccurately describing ESAs.

EdChoice, though, also asks a different question that accurately describes ESAs. It reads:

“An Education Savings Account in K-12 education — often called an ESA — establishes for parents a government-authorized savings account with restricted, but multiple uses for educational purposes. Parents can use these funds to pay for: school tuition; tutoring; online education programs; therapies for students with special needs; textbooks or other instructional materials; or save for future college expenses.”

When ESAs are properly described, support in New Hampshire shoots up to 70%. 

Education Next, a project of Harvard University and Stanford University, regularly tests public support for school choice programs. Its most recent poll, in 2020, found:

  • 51% of Americans support voucher programs in which government helps pay private school tuition costs for children, and only 36% oppose;
  • 44% support charter schools, and only 37% oppose;
  • 57% support tax-credit scholarship programs, and only 27% oppose. 

Education Next did not ask about Education Savings Accounts. But its polling finds school choice options to be more popular than unpopular. 

Another example of nationwide findings comes from the Associated Press, which just published the results of a survey that found more support than opposition for vouchers for low-income families.

The AP poll question was this:

“Do you favor, oppose, or neither favor nor oppose each of the following government-funded policies? * Give low income parents tax-funded vouchers they can use to help pay for tuition for their children to attend private or religious schools of their choice instead of public schools.”

Among K-12 parents, 46% favor vouchers for low-income students, and 28% oppose.

The March 2021 UNH poll was the only one here to find opposition exceeding support for school choice. There’s a reason for that. Its question was bad.

The UNH poll can’t possibly offer an accurate reflection of the public’s views on SB 130’s EFA program because it inaccurately described the program. The only New Hampshire poll to provide a good description of EFAs found 70 percent support for them. 

Policymakers considering this issue shouldn’t give any weight to a poll in which the topic being polled was so wrongly described. 

A new study from the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy finds that the Education Freedom Account program in Senate Bill 130 would save taxpayers $6.65 million in its first two years, decrease state aid to district public schools by only 0.024% by its second year, and decrease district public school enrollment by an average of only 0.8% in its first year and 2% in its second year.  (In the last decade, public school enrollments in New Hampshire have fluctuated by more than 9% a year, on average.)

It also would produce $30.6 million in higher lifetime earnings for students who take an EFA in the program’s second year, generate $12.9 million in economic benefits to the state by creating more high school graduates, and generate a savings to society of $163,000 from reduced felonies among the second year EFA class alone.

Below is the report’s executive summary. You can find the full report here: Analysis of SB 130 EFA Program. We post the tables for the appendices separately here: (appendix table C1) (appendix table c2) (appendix table c3)

Executive Summary:

Two bills introduced in the New Hampshire Legislature in January of 2021, House Bill 20 and Senate Bill 130, propose the creation of Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs) for NH families.  The EFA program would allow any NH resident eligible to attend a public school in grades K-12 to use his or her per-pupil state education grant to pay for a variety of educational services chosen from a state-approved list.  The Senate bill (SB 130) is moving forward after HB 20 stalled in the House.  This report analyzes the Senate version of the bill.

As amended in the Senate Education Committee, SB 130 limits eligibility to families whose household income is less than 300 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL), adjusted for household size.  If a family prefers their child’s assigned public school, then nothing changes.  State adequate education grant money is automatically sent directly to the school district, as happens currently.  If an eligible family prefers an alternative to their assigned school, parents could apply to create an EFA.  The state would deposit the student’s adequate education grant (plus any qualifying differential aid) into the EFA.  The family could then choose to spend that money on a number of pre-approved educational services, such as tuition at another public school, tuition at a private school, tutoring, special education services, tuition at a community college, and online education, among others.

This report provides a fiscal and economic analysis of this legislation, as well as a review of New Hampshire public education spending and academic outcomes in recent years.  It finds that:

  • The percentage of New Hampshire students eligible for EFAs is estimated to be 31.26 percent overall, and 31.1 percent for private school students.
  • The state can expect approximately 966 students to use an EFA in the 2021-22 academic year and 2,335 to use an EFA in the 2022-23 academic year.These estimates are based on take-up rates of similar programs in Indiana and other states, as well as a review of take-up rates of other government aid programs.
  • For the 2021-22 academic year, the average cost of an EFA would be $4,578.The projected cost to the state of the proposed EFA program would be $2.4 million, while local school districts would save an estimated $4.2 million, leading to a projected taxpayer savings of $1.85 million (with rounding).
  • For the 2022-23 academic year, the average cost of an EFA would be $4,803.The projected cost to the state would be $5.9 million, while local school districts would save an estimated $10.7 million, for a net taxpayer savings of $4.8 million.
  • The average reduction in state adequate education aid to local school districts would be $12,247 in the first year of the program and $32,126 in the second year, absent provisions in law that delay those reductions.  That is an average of just 0.048% of district revenue in the first year and 0.049% in year two.  But districts receive funding based on prior-year enrollment.  Therefore, there is no reduction in state aid to districts in the first year.  SB 130 requires that districts receive 50% of any lost EFA funding in year two as a “phase out grant.”  With that grant in place, district revenue would fall by only $16,063 on average in year two, which is just 0.024% of average district revenue.
  • The enrollment reduction per school district is projected to average 2.65 students (0.8%) in the first year of the program and 6.63 students (2%) in the second year. From 2010-2019, NH districts experienced an average annual enrollment change of 54 students, or 9.41% of their student populations.  Enrollment changes caused by EFAs would fall well below the average fluctuation for which districts budget on an annual basis.
  • Local school district savings would average $26,694 in year one and $68,005 in year two.
  • The average EFA grant is only 23% as large as the cost of educating a student in a traditional NH public school, so the taxpayer cost of educating a student through an EFA is 77% less than the cost of educating a student in a traditional public school.
  • The EFA program would result in a $28,744 increase in lifetime earnings per student for 1,063 public school students who choose an EFA in the second year of the program. That would generate a cumulative total of $30.6 million in higher lifetime earnings.
  • The EFA program would result in 43 more high school graduates among its second year class, generating an additional $12.9 million in economic benefits for those students.
  • The EFA program would cause a reduction in crime, generating a savings to society of $163,000 from reduced felonies among its second year class alone.
  • Adjusted for inflation, total expenditures in New Hampshire public schools increased by 66 percent between the 1994-95 and 2017-18 school years, while public school enrollment fell by 9 percent.
  • The number of teachers in New Hampshire public schools increased by 23 percent between 1994-95 and 2018-19, as the number of students fell by 9 percent.In addition, NH public schools increased their employment of non-teachers (all other staff) by 80 percent.
  • While current spending per student (a figure that excludes capital and some other expenses) increased by 77 percent between 1994-95 and 2017-18, average teacher salaries increased by only 1 percent (both adjusted for inflation).
  • Despite this large increase in spending per student and tremendous increase in staffing, New Hampshire public schools’ performance trends on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) lagged the nation between 2003 and 2019. NAEP gains in New Hampshire have lagged the national average in Mathematics, and NH’s average Reading performance has fallen.
  • NH students’ academic performance has lagged behind the performance of the two states with the highest percentage of students enrolled in school choice programs, Arizona and Florida. In 2019, 6.7 percent of Arizona students and 4.9% of Florida students were participating in a state taxpayer-funded private school choice program.  Only two-tenths of one percent of New Hampshire students were participating in New Hampshire’s town tuitioning program (to attend a private school) or the state’s Education Tax Credit Program.  As shown in Section IV of this report, Arizona and Florida’s gains in NAEP scores far exceeded national changes and changes in New Hampshire’s average scores between 2003 and 2019.  Both Arizona and Florida have child poverty rates about 2.5 times higher than New Hampshire’s rate, and both states spend about 70 percent less per student than New Hampshire’s public schools.

In summary, the EFA program in SB 130 can be expected to save NH taxpayers $6.65 million in its first two years, educate students at less than 25% of the cost of a traditional public school, increase the number of high school graduates, and create $30.6 million in higher lifteime earnings for its first students, $12.9 million in economic benefits for students who otherwise wouldn’t graduate high school, and $163,000 in benefits to the state from a reduction in felonies.  In addition, evidence from other states suggests that the proposed EFA program is highly likely to improve outcomes for public school students who do not choose an EFA.

 

A review of public school spending, staffing and enrollment numbers going back to the 1994-95 school year might surprise a lot of Granite Staters who have heard for decades that New Hampshire public schools have been underfunded. The truth is that spending has risen dramatically as enrollment has declined. And much of that new spending was devoted to hiring staff.

Analyzing official state data, we found that:

  • Adjusted for inflation, total expenditures in New Hampshire public schools increased by 66 percent between the 1994-95 and 2017-18 school years.
  • At the same time, public school enrollment fell by 9 percent.
  • Though enrollment was declining, the number of teachers in New Hampshire public schools increased by 23 percent between 1994-95 and 2018-19.
  • The number of non-teachers (all other staff) increased by 80 percent from 1994-95 and 2018-19.
  • The combination of a staffing surge and an enrollment decline led to smaller student-teacher and student-staff ratios. From 1995-2019, New Hampshire’s student-teacher ratio fell from 15.6 students per teacher to 12.2. The student-staff ratio fell by nearly 50%, from 20 students per staff member in 95 to 10.8 students per staff member in 2019.
  • The large spending increases did not produce large increases in average teacher salaries, however. Current spending per student, adjusted for inflation, increased by 77 percent between 1994-95 and 2017-18, yet average teacher salaries increased by only 1 percent, also on an inflation-adjusted basis. (“Current spending” excludes capital and some other expenses that are included in “total expenditures.” It’s the spending from which districts pay staff salaries.)

These findings come from a new report, to be released Monday. It will feature a spreadsheet that details these data for each school district in the state. Some districts experienced enrollment increases since 1994-95. (Bow, Hopkinton, Wilton-Lyndeboro, for example.) But most experienced declining enrollment. And as enrollment fell statewide, spending and staffing continued to increase. 

New Hampshire’s total expenditures per student have risen faster than the national average. 

In 2003, New Hampshire’s total expenditures per student were only slightly above the national average. The U.S. average that year was $9,299, and the New Hampshire figure was $9,802. By 2017, the U.S. average had risen to $13,834, but New Hampshire’s had grown to $17,006. (These figures are in nominal, not inflation-adjusted, dollars.)

In the last two years, there has been an increased focus on public school funding in New Hampshire. A wide variety of proposals have been floated for how public education could be funded or delivered differently. Amid all of this disagreement, one assertion that often goes unchallenged is the claim that public schools have suffered long-term reductions in overall funding. That simply isn’t true. As enrollment has declined, spending has increased. 

Any discussion of public education funding should begin by acknowledging this basic fact.