From 2001-2019, New Hampshire public school districts lost 29,946 students, but increased spending by an inflation-adjusted $937 million, a new Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy study has found.

In percentage terms, inflation-adjusted spending rose by 40% while enrollment fell by 14%.

The increase in spending is even more dramatic when capital and debt spending are removed. Current spending (operational spending that excludes capital projects and debt service) increased by 74% from 2001-2019.

On a per-pupil basis, New Hampshire public school spending increased by 66.8%, adjusted for inflation. In nominal dollars, New Hampshire spent $8,245 per student in 2001. That figure reached $18,905 in 2019, representing a 129% increase before accounting for cost of living increases. Adjusting for inflation, the increase was a stunning 66.8%.

The increase was so large that New Hampshire went from being 4% below the national average in per-pupil expenditures in 2001 to 25.7% above the national average in 2019.

A large portion of this increased spending went to hire new staff. While the number of students in New Hampshire district public schools fell by 14%, staffing increased by 15%. (Teacher pay rose by 12%, indicating that the emphasis was on hiring, not raising pay.)

Parents might assume that nearly $1 billion in additional spending above the rate of inflation bought improvements in performance on national metrics. That did not happen. As current spending rose by 74% and staffing levels rose by 15%, New Hampshire’s National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading and Math scores fell by 4 points. Nationally, scores rose by 15 points, which means that New Hampshire fell behind relative to other states despite a massive increase in spending.

The big picture is that during the first two decades of this century New Hampshire spent 40% more to educate 14% fewer students, and those students wound up doing slightly worse in reading and math.  

The massive increase in resources devoted to K-12 public schools was not repeated in other areas of state and local government. From 2001-2019, employment in New Hampshire public schools increased by 3,359 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) employees.  Employment in public colleges and universities increased by 478 FTE employees. All other state and local government added just 332 FTE employees. 

While total spending on district public schools rose by 40% from 2001-2019, the percentages varied by level of government—local, state, and federal.  And inflation was an important factor. 

Total state taxpayer funding to district public schools increased in nominal dollars from about $878 million in 2001 to approximately $1 billion in 2019. However, much of that increase was consumed by inflation. When adjusted for inflation, total state appropriations to district public schools shrank from an inflation-adjusted $1.2 billion in 2001 to $1 billion in 2019—a decline of 17 percent. Most of this decline, 83.9%, is due to declining student enrollments. The remaining 16.1 percent was due to actual increases in state appropriations coming close to, but not quite keeping up with, inflation.

Total local appropriations, adjusted for inflation, doubled, going from $1.09 billion in 2001 to $2.19 billion in 2019. That’s a 101% increase in spending as the number of students served fell by 14%.

Local and federal spending increases per pupil were also large, even when adjusted for inflation. Inflation-adjusted federal spending per student increased by 84%, going from $500 in 2001 to $920 in 2019, and local spending per student increased by 135%, going from $5,223 in 2001 to $12,279 in 2019.

State spending per student, however, was fairly flat during this period, when adjusted for inflation. Inflation-adjusted state spending per student was 3 percent lower in 2019 relative to 2001, a decline from $5,791 to $5,604 by 2019.

The full report, executive summary, and tables can be downloaded below. The tables contain detailed spending numbers for individual school districts. 

Executive Summary: 01-19EdFundingReportExecSummary

Full Report: EducationSpending01-19Report

Appendix Tables: Ed Spending Report District Tables



The New Hampshire Legislature, in its wisdom, has decreed how much an adequate education costs. It’s right there in statute, RSA 198:40-a. 

Legislators wrote in three concise paragraphs that the cost of an adequate education totals precisely $3,561.27 in 2015 dollars, plus an additional $1,780.63 for students eligible for a free or reduced price meal, $697.77 extra for English language learners, $1,915.86 extra for special education students, and $697.77 extra for third graders who score below proficient in reading. (The statute requires those figures to be adjusted for inflation, which they have been.)

Four school districts, led by Contoocook Valley, have sued the state, claiming that an adequate education actually costs much more than the state provides. Fourteen additional districts have joined the lawsuit. 

When the state Supreme Court trial began on April 10, the attorney for the districts said “there’s no place in the state where an adequate education can be provided for less than $4,000 per student.”

In New Hampshire, public school districts spend, on average, more than $23,000 per student in local, state and federal funds on all expenses, including transportation, construction and interest. On average, 60% of that funding comes from local property taxes and 27% from state adequate education aid, state figures show. 

The large gap between actual spending and the state’s decree forms the basis of this lawsuit.

The state says the cost of a adequate education is whatever the Legislature says it is.

The districts say the cost is determined by how much the districts spend.

Economically, they’re both wrong.

Or more precisely, they’re both using the wrong measure. No one can know the true cost of an adequate education because no market exists to find it. 

There is no functioning K-12 education market in New Hampshire. By law, students are assigned to public schools based on where they live. Spending levels are set by government formulas, not by parents making choices among competing options.

Without a market in which competition spurs innovation and creates efficiencies, there’s no way to know how much an adequate education should cost.  

The districts’ spending levels are a poor measure because each district is its own regional monopoly. The small amount of competition from chartered public schools isn’t enough to trigger the sort of large-scale efficiency gains that drive prices down and productivity up. 

The state’s method of determining costs—legislative debate—also relies on what districts spend in the absence of a competitive market. Legislators looked at what was spent and calculated costs based on that. 

So we have a debate between government entities, each of which thinks it can set prices accurately on its own. Nowhere along the way have consumers been empowered to do what consumers do: improve quality and lower prices. (Case study: Wisconsin.)  

Imagine if grocery stores were provided by government in the same way public schools are. Each community got a government-determined number of stores, and people were assigned to shop at the store closest to their home. The government sent your grocery money directly to the store, not to you. If you wanted to buy from a different store, you could, but the government-provided store got to keep your government-allocated grocery money. What would happen to prices?

At the state Supreme Court, each of these two sides will argue that it has the authoritative method for determining the true cost of an adequate education. But what’s missing is the voice of the consumer.

The truth is that the only authoritative method for discovering the cost of an adequate eduction is the creation of an open and competitive educational marketplace. Government formulas are no substitute for individuals empowered to make their own choices. 

“Healthy market competition is fundamental to a well-functioning U.S. economy. Basic economic theory demonstrates that when firms have to compete for customers, it leads to lower prices, higher quality goods and services, greater variety, and more innovation.”

— Heather Boushey and Helen Knudsen, “The Importance of Competition for the American Economy,” The White House, July 9, 2021

Competition has been central to American life from the beginning. It’s at the core of the American identity. As the Biden administration has stated (in the quote above), competition has proven its public value by stimulating the innovation that improves quality and lowers prices. 

Libraries full of economic research bear this out. As a paper for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development put it in 2002: “Competition has pervasive and long-lasting effects on economic performance by affecting economic actors’ incentive structure, by encouraging their innovative activities, and by selecting more efficient ones from less efficient ones over time.”

This applies to all industries, including education. School choice is expanding in state after state because the data show that it works. And it works not just for students who enroll in alternative programs but for those whose families choose traditional public schools as well.

“We find evidence that as public schools are more exposed to private school choice, their students experience increasing benefits as the program scales up,” a 2020 study of Florida’s tax credit scholarships found. “In particular, higher levels of private school choice exposure are associated with lower rates of suspensions and absences, and with higher standardized test scores in reading and in math.”

That’s not a fluke. 

Of 28 studies that have examined the competitive effects of various school choice programs on students who remain in traditional public schools, two found negative effects, one could find no effect, and 25 found positive effects, as EdChoice details in its compilation of school choice studies titled The 123s of School Choice. 

What about educational outcomes, such as graduating from high school or college? No study has found a negative effect, and most have found positive effects. 

For example, a 2019 Urban Institute study of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, the nation’s largest private school choice program, found that it generated a 12% increase in college attendance.  

The vast majority of research on school choice finds that the introduction of a choice program tends to improve test scores, educational outcomes, parental satisfaction, integration, and civic values and practices — while saving money. 

The financial effects have been studied the most, and their findings aren’t surprising. Of 73 studies of the fiscal effects of school choice programs, five found a net cost increase, four found cost neutrality, and 68 found that the introduction of choice generated cost savings. 

School choice works because the competitive forces unlocked by the creation of a robust marketplace generate the same positive effects in education that they do in other industries. 

“Students attending schools with more competitive pressure made larger gains as program enrollment grew statewide than did students at schools with less market competition,” the authors of the 2020 Florida study wrote.

Because competition has been proven to generate positive outcomes in education, as in other industries, protecting education from competition can only harm students. 

The fastest way to improve outcomes for New Hampshire students is to give them more options. This can be done with a simple change. 

Eligibility for both the Tax Credit Scholarship and the Education Freedom Account programs is capped at 300% of federal poverty level. Removing the income cap and making both programs universally accessible would stimulate innovation, and match more students with their best educational environment, more rapidly than any other reform. 

Were all students to become eligible for both programs, competition would quickly begin to work its magic. There is no faster, more effective way to improve outcomes for all students. 

Editor’s note: Since the COVID-19 pandemic, educational entrepreneurship has boomed nationwide. New Hampshire has experienced significant growth in the number of entrepreneurs and innovators willing to take on the daunting challenge of building a new educational ecosystem. This year, we’ll be highlighting some of the people and organizations that have begun expanding the education marketplace in the Granite State, as well as the obstacles they face in creating non-traditional learning environments. We start with Becky Anderson and Prax Village, a Seacoast community for home-schooling families. We hope you enjoy these profiles and stories of market innovation.

Prax Village: A thriving co-learning community
By Becky Anderson

Prax Village is a community of liberty-minded homeschooling families in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire. After two full years, our current member base includes more than 100 kids of all ages, from about 50 families. But Prax Village looked much different when it was established in the autumn of 2020.

A small group of like-minded families had collectively purchased and, through many volunteer hours and efforts, renovated a private community center that we call the Praxeum. The building and beautiful outdoor space on our property were used for charitable events, meetups, classes, and co-working. The Praxeum’s founders were at different stages in raising our families, yet we found ourselves always returning to a common goal: to form a support network for parents navigating the choice to raise our children outside of the conventional school system, and a strong, trusted social group for our kids as they grew.

In 2020, government-imposed COVID restrictions unceremoniously canceled many of our extracurriculars and homeschool groups, while also closing homeschoolers’ typical gathering places like libraries, museums and indoor playgrounds. Many new and long-time homeschoolers felt displaced and found themselves searching for in-person opportunities. Kids (and parents) really missed interacting with each other in a normal and natural way.

We already had a location, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome, and knew it was the right time to share it with more families, so Prax Village was launched. For an affordable monthly fee, members had just a couple of opportunities per week to meet at the Praxeum, along with seasonal special events. We trusted that this simple start would grow into richer and more robust offerings, and it has.

Through steady and organic growth, Prax Village has become a community that has greatly exceeded our initial expectations and continues to evolve and improve.

Prax Village members include kids from babies to teens, and many types of homeschoolers: brand new and seasoned, religious and secular. A wide array of educational philosophies can be found here. Many members join after moving from other states to New Hampshire for its high quality of life and increased personal freedom. Because we share common principles of liberty and a desire to raise responsible and thoughtful individuals, our members make up a strong and supportive community despite our diversity of educational styles.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and energy of parent volunteers, Prax Village now offers multiple classes and clubs five days a week, with a year-round calendar of 8-week sessions. We owe our success to members’ generosity with their time and knowledge. Over the past year, the schedule has included Spanish, soccer, book club, chess club, LEGO club, multiple art classes, music appreciation and chemistry — and that’s only a partial list!

We aim to cater to a wide variety of interests, from weekly Toddler Time for ages 2-4 with rotating parent leaders to a multi-year academic deep dive into Greek classics for ages 11 and older. Most families come to the Praxeum one, two, or three times a week for the supplemental classes that interest them most, and our 8-week sessions give everyone a chance to try out different things and maintain a flexible schedule.

We have established our own unique set of seasonal traditions — a Valentine Exchange, Freecoast Egg Hunt, Midsummer Potluck, Halloween Trunk or Treat, and Enlightenment: A Winter Solstice Celebration.

Organizers also create fun opportunities around the region exclusively for Prax Village members, like our field trip to the New Hampshire Farm Museum or sailing classes with the Gundalow Company. We have held food drives and toy drives, and seasonal clothing swaps with leftover clothes donated to the Pass Along Project. We are even beginning to see more time carved out for parents to connect and recharge, like Ladies’ Book Club and Anarcraft meetups.

In September, we tried something new and, for one weekend only, we transformed the Praxeum into Prax Museum: A Pop-Up, Hands-On, Kid-Made Science Center. Prax Village members invited friends, family and fellow homeschoolers to explore physics, chemistry, light, electricity and other amazing natural phenomena by interacting with dozens of exhibits and demonstrations. Popular exhibits included the impressive full-room pinhole camera, the Bernoulli blower, colorful shadows, and tricky goggles that turned the world backwards and upside down. Every exhibit was an opportunity to play with science and learn together.

Prax Village differs from the typical homeschooling co-op. We avoid long waitlists and limited enrollment. Because we are able to adjust our programming choices according to size and member demographics, new families can join at any time. We don’t provide core academics, as we understand that the parent is the expert in their children’s unique learning needs.

We aren’t a drop-off program. In part, this decision was made to avoid regulations and licensing, but by including parents in all that we do, we encourage strong friendships to form between whole families rather than only the children. Our large, weekly, unstructured gathering is an important social time for parents and kids alike.

With so many families leaving the public school system in search of other educational options, this is an exciting time for homeschoolers, and New Hampshire is the best place to be! Prax Village is positioned to continue leading the way as a community for liberty-minded homeschoolers in our state. If you would like more information about Prax Village or to become a member, visit

Becky Anderson is founder of Prax Village Homeschool Community.

By Kerry McDonald

Parents in the Granite State and across the country are clamoring for more educational choices, and greater access to those choices, so that they can find the learning environment that is the best fit for their child’s distinct needs and interests. As a longtime New Hampshire homeschooling mom, Kathryn Michelotti has seen the statewide growth of both homeschooling and other, more personalized education options over the past decade. Recognizing this mounting demand, Michelotti and fellow homeschooling mom Sharon Osborne opened Latitude Learning, a homeschool learning center, in Manchester in 2019.

Latitude Learning began as a small learning collaborative with a la carte classes and activities for local homeschoolers, but in the wake of widespread pandemic school closures and remote learning in 2020, Latitude rapidly expanded. The program quickly outgrew its small space and moved to a larger facility in Derry, where Latitude now serves 120 students, ages four to 17, by offering daily classes and clubs.

Seeing the success of Latitude Learning and the continued parent desire for more learning options in New Hampshire, Michelotti and Osborne are planning to scale their program statewide. “We hope to have a few more Latitudes around New Hampshire so more learners can thrive the way our students do,” Michelotti said. “I’d love to see a future where each child is involved in a learning center or school that reaches them, instructs in their individual learning style, and encourages them to develop their strengths and talents while supporting their individuality and promoting personal responsibility.”

This vision recently led Latitude Learning to be recognized as a quarter-finalist for the prestigious Yass Prize that rewards education entrepreneurs across the U.S. who are building innovative learning models. As an acknowledgement of their efforts, and to help further their expansion goals, Latitude Learning won a $100,000 grant this fall from the Yass Foundation.

“To be recognized and even awarded for what we are doing shows that others see we are on the right path,” Michelotti said. “Of course, we already knew this because we can see how happy our students are, but an outside organization like the Yass Foundation for Education’s acknowledgement of our mission is incredibly validating.”

New Hampshire is a national leader in both school choice programs and education entrepreneurship, helping to increase learning options for families. The state’s tax-credit scholarship program and new Education Freedom Accounts (EFA) enable income-eligible families to exit an assigned district school for a private education option that may work better for their child.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurial parents and educators, such as Michelotti and Osborne, are building new learning models and launching new educational programs that broaden the supply of available options. Most of these new educational programs are low-cost, but many of them also participate in the scholarship and EFA programs, enabling greater access.

Latitude Learning, for example, charges $600 for a 16-week semester of one-day-per-week classes, which is less than $40 per day. Families can choose how many days per week to attend. Latitude is also an approved provider for both the New Hampshire EFA program and the tax-credit scholarship program, making it more widely accessible to more families.

Encouraging the proliferation of low-cost, innovative education solutions throughout New Hampshire will enable more families to find and access just the right learning environment for their child. Unfortunately, regulatory hurdles and related bureaucratic barriers can make it difficult for education entrepreneurs to start and scale their small businesses.

For Becky Owens in Chester, trying to offer sporadic homeschool programs on her farm property turned into a regulatory headache that likely would have deterred many other aspiring education entrepreneurs from moving forward. Owens had been homeschooling her own five children for several years, after pulling her oldest son from the local public elementary school because it wasn’t a good fit for her shy, sensitive boy. She wanted a more personalized educational environment for him and her other children that would be responsive to their individual learning needs and styles.

A college professor for 15 years with a Ph.D. in education, Owens decided to create that personalized learning environment, and eventually expand her offerings to other children in her community. In 2020, she decided to host occasional nature hikes on her property for small groups of local homeschoolers. She had a handful of students register for one of her hikes, and she placed a chalkboard sign in front of her house with the words “Farm Rich Nature Hike” so families could find her.

This simple gesture set off a cascade of events involving the local building inspector, who issued her a “cease and desist” letter for her farm walks. Over the subsequent weeks, Owens had to prepare numerous documents for local officials, including an aerial view of her property, and appear before the planning board to ask for permission to operate as a home-based business. She also had a property inspection from the local fire chief, even though her program was held entirely outside. All of this was required just so Owens could welcome a few children to her property for a nature walk. Her walks never exceeded 10 kids.

Eventually, Owens received approval to operate as a home-based business. “As long as I was completely outside, with no more than four cars at a time, and the kids were not being dropped off on the street, then I could continue,” said Owens, who was granted permission to run a home-based residential business but was told any growth would be limited.

“I can’t hire staff because the building inspector said I can’t. If I hire just one person, I am no longer considered a home-based business,” she said.

Owens offers periodic nature hikes, as well as a program called “Pony Pals,” that provides horse-themed interdisciplinary academic work for children once a week for two hours at a time. Additionally, she offers a once a week program for foster kids that focuses on life skills. (Owens and her husband are also foster parents.) Per her home-based business approval, all of these programs are completely outdoors.

In 2021, however, Owens discovered that the fast-growing national microschool network, Prenda, was entering New Hampshire, and that the state was using a portion of its federal COVID relief funds to make Prenda learning pods available tuition-free for New Hampshire families. Owens gravitated to Prenda, appreciating its small, mixed-age model and focus on individualized learning. She signed up as a recognized Prenda guide, able to host these learning pods at her home.

Today, Owens leads two Prenda pods on alternating days and times throughout the week, each with a maximum of 10 children in kindergarten through sixth grade. A few hundred New Hampshire children are enrolled in Prenda pods throughout the state.

As a hired guide for a national microschool network, Owens is able to operate her indoor learning pod program out of her home, but she is barred from running a similar, independent microschool program on her property.

This discrepancy, triggered by local ordinances that often prohibit the creation and expansion of home-based businesses—and especially of education-related businesses—can block home-grown educational solutions in New Hampshire. It can dissuade entrepreneurial educators and parents from offering educational programming that nearby families may want, and it can tilt the scale away from local, entrepreneurial offerings.

“Something needs to be done,” Owens said. “These local roadblocks need to go away.”

Cultivating a low-tax, low-regulation landscape in New Hampshire that encourages small business has long been a priority for Granite State voters. The emergence of a new sector of education entrepreneurship, catalyzed in large part by the state’s growing school choice programs and increasing parent demand for new and different learning options, could be encouraged and accelerated by exempting non-traditional educational offerings from outdated and often irrelevant regulations. Home education is already exempted from state statutes that define education as occurring in “schools.” But today there are many more educational programs in New Hampshire and across the U.S. that don’t fit into the category of “school” or “homeschool,” and often run into regulatory snares as a result.

Providing broad regulatory exemptions for all non-traditional educational organizations in New Hampshire would encourage education innovation and experimentation. Devising this education-focused “regulatory sandbox” could help unleash the supply of more education options for families by prompting entrepreneurial parents and educators to build new and varied learning organizations.

Additionally, modifying local zoning ordinances to allow educational services by default in residential and commercial zones would enable more learning pods, microschools, and similar non-traditional educational models to emerge.

These common regulatory barriers to entry and scale impact education entrepreneurs nationwide, as my new report for State Policy Network describes. They preclude creative education solutions from being invented and extended, and limit the assortment of education options available to families. New Hampshire is well-positioned to lessen the regulatory burden on education entrepreneurs, and encourage the introduction of an array of educational possibilities. Parent demand for more education options continues to grow, and school choice policies such as EFAs and tax-credit scholarships continue to support that demand.

Now, state and local policymakers can encourage the supply of these diverse learning options by removing regulatory hurdles that prevent or limit education entrepreneurship throughout New Hampshire. Who knows what New Hampshire’s next award-winning learning model will be?

Kerry McDonald is an education policy fellow at State Policy Network and a senior education fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education. She is the author of the book, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom.

Students are heading back to school, and based on media reports you might expect them to be sitting in classrooms without a teacher. News organizations nationwide have published stories raising alarms about dire school staffing shortages.

So why do hiring and staffing data tell a completely different story?

The New Hampshire Department of Education announced in July that teacher credential renewals were up this year, not down. 

The state renewed 8,350 educator credentials through mid-July 2022, vs. 8,232 at the same point last year. Since 2020, the number of credentialed teachers in the state has increased by about 300.

Nationwide, researchers also find no evidence of a dire teacher shortage.

There is no national teacher shortage,” The Atlantic reported last week. 

The magazine cited news stories blaring alarmist headlines about a national teacher shortage:

The Washington Post has warned of a “catastrophic teacher shortage.” ABC World News Tonight called it a new “growing crisis,” and Rebecca Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, called it a “five-alarm” fire. 

And yet, reporter Derek Thompson checked the numbers and found…

In parts of the country, schools are struggling to hire staff. But they are mostly the same districts that have been struggling for years to fill the same positions, such as substitute and special-ed roles. In the big picture, the new and catastrophic national teacher shortage is neither newly catastrophic nor, in any meaningful sense, national. Under one interpretation of the murky data, the country might even have a teacher surplus on its hands, because so many parents have pulled their children out of public schools since the pandemic began.

Researchers who study education data debunked the media narrative.

“There has not been a mass exodus of teachers across the country,” Heather Schwartz, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, told me. Chad Aldeman, who writes about education finance at Edunomics Lab, agrees. “The public narrative has gotten way ahead of the data and is even misleading in most cases,” he told me.

A new study from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University has found that teacher turnover rates are about the same as they were before the pandemic. 

“After roughly a half-decade of steady growth, total public school jobs decreased by roughly 9% through May 2020. The initial drop represented more than twice the number of positions erased during the financial crisis of 2008,” education news website The 74 reported on Monday.

“But the data also suggested that those positions were disproportionately cut from non-teaching ranks. Occupational records from both national and state sources showed measured declines among nurses, administrative support staff, paraprofessionals and other predominantly non-instructional employees.”

So, if there’s no national teacher shortage, and no statewide teacher shortage, why have there been so many stories that give the opposite impression?

Journalists are trained to gather anecdotes, not data. They interview a few people in a few districts who say it’s been really hard to find staff. And — voila! — there’s a big shortage. 

Unfortunately, journalists are less inclined to double check anecdotes that appear to confirm conventional wisdom or a generally left-of-center narrative. And most journalists aren’t well trained to gather and analyze data on their own. 

That leads to a lot of bad reporting about trends. Maybe some reporters need to go back to school too. 


Speaking in favor of Senate Bill 432, a bill to eliminate New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Account program, Sen. Rebecca Whitley, D-Hopkinton, argued that state education aid should not go to help lower-income students purchase educational services outside of their assigned school districts, but should directly aid their districts instead.

“We clearly have a problem with the way that education funding is distributed, public funds are distributed to our schools,” she said. “But the solution is not to send that money to private and religious schools. The answer is to send funding in a way that districts and the students with the greatest challenges receive the funding that they need. That’s where we should be focusing our efforts, not sending dollars to private and religious schools. 

“A fair school funding system must deliver more funds to those most in need, and those are our school districts with high concentrations of poverty that require additional resources to serve their students. That’s where we should be focusing on.”

Regarding the formula for distributing state aid to local school districts, Sen. Whitley is right. The state should be able to give more adequacy aid to lower-income districts than it gives to higher-income districts. 

But it can’t.

In its Claremont rulings (here and here), the state Supreme Court’s declared large disparities in state aid to school districts unconstitutional. The court held that state adequate education aid must be uniform statewide in pursuit of the state’s duty to fully fund an adequate public education.

The state is allowed to give additional aid for lower-income and special-education students on top of the base adequacy aid. But it may not, say, give property-poor districts $10,000 in adequacy aid per student while giving property-rich districts $2,000, or nothing at all.

The Claremont lawsuit was sold as a way to “level the playing field” between poorer and richer districts. But as critics pointed out at the time, Claremont would not do that, and could make those inequities worse, unless the court or the Legislature also prohibited local taxpayers from spending any local money on public schools. 

That, of course, did not happen. The court refused to rule local contributions to public education unconstitutional, and no Legislature would pass such a law. So instead of the state reducing funding disparities by giving more aid to poorer districts and less aid to richer districts, the Claremont ruling forced taxpayers statewide to subsidize all districts equally. Such equal state funding maintains preexisting disparities, and possibly makes them worse. 

Post-Claremont, the Legislature is forced to subsidize public schools in the state’s wealthiest communities even though everyone knows this sends to rich towns money that otherwise would go to poor towns.

As currently structured, New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Account program sort of gets around that. Only families with incomes at or below 300% of the federal poverty level qualify for Education Freedom Accounts. So through this program the state can give lower-income families the ability to leave their assigned public schools and find an alternative that might work better for their children.

Unfortunately, that leaves out students who struggle in their assigned schools but who don’t meet the income threshold. Educational fit is highly personal and is not dictated by income. 

A better way would be to make all options available to all students, let families choose whichever option works best for their children, and let the state vary the size of aid based on criteria such as income or a student’s individual needs. 

But as long as the state distributes aid directly to school districts, it should have the discretion to do as Sen. Whitley suggests: send significantly more aid to poorer districts. The Josiah Bartlett Center has advocated this for decades (see here and here, for example.) It’s good public policy. But it’s not allowed under current Supreme Court jurisprudence. 

Perhaps Sen. Whitley and other likeminded legislators would be interested in introducing a constitutional amendment to fix that in the future. Such amendments have failed in the past, but that doesn’t diminish the need to fix this problem created by the Claremont rulings, and only a constitutional amendment will do the trick.   

In New Hampshire, School Choice Week 2022 (Jan. 24-28) highlighted some reasons why parents pursue educational options beyond their assigned public school. 

On Monday, School Choice Week kicked off with a new policy at Newmarket Junior-Senior High School: Unmasked students are to be removed from class, given detention, then suspended if they continue to attend school without wearing a mask. 

Recognizing the blowback such a policy would create, the principal told parents in a letter days earlier that if they didn’t like it they could switch their children to another school.

“We recognize that there are some who oppose the wearing of masks in schools,” the principal wrote. “In order to better meet the needs of these families, the New Hampshire Department of Education continues to provide alternative options for learning that can take place in the home through (Virtual Learning Academy Charter School) enrollment.”

So School Choice Week started with a public school principal urging parents to choose an alternative school.

The next day came the news that students in a Derry middle school would face detention for not wearing “properly-fitted” masks. In detention, they would be re-educated. 

“We will use this time in concert with our school nurse to provide more education for students to stress the importance of compliance,” the school principal wrote.

The same week these severe masking policies were implemented, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New York Times and National Public Radio ran pieces that called into question the efficacy and wisdom of school mask mandates.

This disconnect between some district policies and the evolving research on COVID mitigation protocols and practices has exacerbated tensions and frustrations, leading to additional pressure for families to have multiple educational options. 

Though masking happened to the the issue that blew up during School Choice Week this year, parents have expressed numerous other reasons for seeking alternative educational options for their children. 

In January, more than half of parents (52%) said they considered or are considering finding a different school for at least one of their children this year. Eighteen percent of parents said they did choose a new school for at least one of their children in the past year. 

The top reasons for considering a different school were higher quality education (36%), COVID disruptions (34%), safety or bullying (26%), the child is unhappy at school (23%). 

Before the pandemic, demand for educational alternatives was lower, but was still strong.

The National Center for Education Statistics’ Parent and Family Involvement in Education survey for the 2018-19 school year found that 36% of students had parents who indicated they had considered multiple schools for their child. Among that group, 92% listed quality of school staff as a factor, 74% said curriculum focus or academic programs, and 69% said safety.

Research by EdChoice shows that parental educational preferences differ from actual student enrollment. Though 36% of parents nationwide say they prefer to enroll their children in a district public school, that’s where 83% of students are enrolled. Though 40% of parents say they would prefer to enroll their children in a private school, only 5% of students are enrolled in one. Though 13% of parents say they’d prefer a charter school, only 8% of students are enrolled in one. 

Choice programs such as charter schools and New Hampshire’s Educational Freedom Accounts (EFAs) are designed to maximize family options so parents can use their own discretion to choose a school that best matches their children’s needs. 

EFAs have proven unexpectedly popular, with 1,837 students enrolling in the program by the time School Choice Week arrived, according to Children’s Scholarship Fund NH, which administers the program.

Yet as  families took advantage of the EFA opportunity, legislators introduced bills to weaken, limit, and even abolish the EFA program. 

Several of those bills will be heard in the  House and Senate Education Committees this week and next. The anti-EFA bills include the following:

  • House Bill 1115 would eliminate student assessment options currently included in the EFA program and require students to take state assessment tests (which might not be aligned with the curricula EFA students are being taught). 
  • House Bill 1120 would require an education service provider chosen by an EFA recipient be a state-approved non-public school education program and to have been in business for at least a year prior to receiving funding. 
  • House Bill 1637 would, as a condition of receiving an EFA, require parents to answer a survey detailing their reasons for wanting to leave their public school.
  • House Bill 1669 would move administration for the EFA program to the Department of Education. Current law has it administered by a private scholarship organization. The bill also would limit the amount of money parents can roll over in their EFA accounts. 
  • House Bill 1670 would prohibit families from keeping their EFA accounts open if a student returns to a public school, and would require unused funds to be collected by the state. It would require annual audits of all EFAs and terminate an EFA account if a parent spent a substantial portion of funds on unapproved expenses, even accidentally.
  • House Bill 1283 would repeal the provision in the EFA law that holds the EFA contributions to be tax-exempt. 
  • House Bill 1516 would prohibit local education dollars from ever being used for EFAs. 
  • Senate Bill 351 would require burdensome, detailed financial and other reporting for any private school that accepts an EFA student. 
  • Senate Bill 237 would make families prove that their income is below 300% of the federal poverty level each year to be eligible for an EFA.
  • House Bill 1684 would limit funding for the EFA program to $129,000 in this fiscal year and $3.3 million next fiscal year, those being early estimates for the state cost of the program. Currently, 1,837 students are enrolled in the EFA program. Were this bill to pass, approximately 1,811 children would lose their scholarships this year, and 1,120 children who have scholarships now would be unable to get them next year. (The average scholarship amount is $4,600.)
  • House Bill 1683 and Senate Bill 432 would repeal the EFA program. If either of these bills passed, 1,837 students would lose their scholarships, and the program would be killed, denying all students this option in the future. 

Efforts to limit and control educational options for families this year face an inevitable collision with the preferences of increasing numbers of parents.

Gallup’s tracking poll on education satisfaction last year found that 54% of Americans were dissatisfied with the quality of K-12 education. That’s not an anomaly. Only three times in 23 years has the poll found that a majority of Americans were satisfied with the quality of K-12 education.

A Real Clear Opinion poll last year found that 74% of Americans support school choice, and that includes more than 70% of Asian, black, Hispanic, and white Americans.

The poll also asked whether people would support giving parents a portion of K-12 public education funds “to use for home, virtual, or private education expenses.” Two-thirds said yes, and the breakdown among Republicans and Democrats was identical, with 66% of each party saying yes. 

Last October, as education became a top national political issue, school choice grew in popularity. Eighty percent of parents with school-age children said they supported Education Savings Accounts like New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Accounts.

The Josiah Bartlett Center’s poll of New Hampshire voters last year found a plurality of voters in favor of EFAs. 

Partly because of the record popularity of school choice, last year 18 states either established or expanded a school choice program. 

All indications are that the school choice moment has arrived. At this point, the smart political move is to find ways to accommodate that demand. Fighting it by attempting to legislate away parental options is like standing on the shore firing a squirt gun at a tsunami. 

As School Choice Week kicks off, it’s worth considering why there’s no such thing as Grocery Choice Week. Or Clothing Choice Week. Or Home Choice Week. 

When it comes to the basic necessities of life — food, clothing and shelter — Americans have the freedom to choose from among whatever options the market provides. (Government limits housing choices, but not as much as it limits K-12 education choices.)

Education is a service provided by state and local governments, so of course it’s more limited, one might argue. But why is it provided by government, as opposed to funded by government?

Government finances or subsidizes some goods and services — food (through food stamps), medical care (through Medicaid and Medicare), higher education (through Pell Grants & other aid) — without providing the service itself. It’s perfectly feasible to do the same with K-12 education. 

There’s no reason government can’t convert what it currently spends on public education (about $20,000 per pupil per year in New Hampshire) into grants or scholarships that parents could use to purchase educational services from approved providers — including public schools.

One argument against this approach is that public schools are an important transmitter of community standards, values and beliefs from one generation to the next. But is this still true?

Parents are being told in no uncertain terms that they may not control the content of their children’s education. They are told that they have no say over what library books their children can access or what ideas, beliefs and facts their children are taught. 

This goes double for non-parents. Community members who object to what is being taught in their name are rarely taken seriously and invited to help ensure that schools uphold community standards. 

On top of this, COVID-19 has shown the damage that can be done by one-size-fits-all school policies that don’t meed families’ needs. Forced remote instruction has had devastating academic and psychological consequences. 

In New Hampshire, more than 8,000 students left the public school system in 2020, and they haven’t come back. That represents 4.5% of the entire student population. Though private school enrollment in New Hampshire for years has tracked closely with public school enrollment, that changed during the pandemic. Private school enrollment shot up as public school enrollment plunged. 

That indicates that parents fled a system that left them with no satisfactory options. Private schools mostly stayed open, attracting thousands of families who weren’t getting what they needed from their local public schools.  

Nationwide, most parents said in a January poll that they’re looking for a new school for their children. If local public school systems offered families a variety of educational options, this number likely would be much lower. Parents don’t leave systems that are meeting their children’s needs. They leave when they feel like those needs aren’t being met.  

Opponents of school choice fear the consequences of giving families control over their education dollars. They claim it would destroy the public education system. But the opposite is true. 

Making the system more responsive to individual student needs will strengthen it in the long run. This is how market forces work. They prompt adaptation. 

Some public schools already operate this way. Charter schools cannot force the children who live near them to attend. These public schools have to attract students. They do this by offering programs that parents want. And it works. Some attract students from dozens of towns. Charters prove that public schools absolutely can compete successfully with private schools. 

The only thing keeping traditional public schools from functioning in a similar way is the design of the system. As long as district schools don’t have to attract nearby students, but can essentially conscript them, reform is going to be extremely difficult to achieve. 

Let families have more control over their education dollars, and schools will improve quickly. This isn’t just theory. It’s already happening in states that have school choice. 

School choice empowers families and improves student outcomes, even for students who remain in traditional schools. It’s the most powerful and effective education improvement method for the simple reason that it’s the only one to match each individual student with the specific services he or she needs. 

New Hampshire voters would have the option of creating local Education Freedom Accounts under a bill scheduled for consideration in the House this week.

Building on the popularity of the state’s new Education Freedom Account program, House Bill 607 would empower the voters in each school district to create a local EFA option for their own students. 

Earlier last year, the bill was written off as all but dead on arrival. But it cleared the House Education Committee in November, and it has some insider buzz going into this week’s vote. 

Under the bill, if 25 registered voters, or 2 percent of the registered voters in a school district, whichever is less, ask the district to create a local EFA program, the district would be required to put the question to voters at the next town meeting.

A 3/5 majority of town meeting voters would be needed to approve a program.

These local EFA programs would be similar to the existing state version, with some key differences. Notably, there is no income cap on participation in the local programs, and students enrolled in private schools would not be eligible. Also, eligibility would be limited to public school and home-schooled pupils who live in the district. 

Funding for the program would come from the local portion of the district’s public education expenditures. 

Opponents characterize the bill as defunding public schools. As with the original EFA legislation, this misunderstands the premise behind the proposal. 

Communities fund public schools for the purpose of educating children. But a lot of children struggle to succeed in the current system. 

The state’s own data show that 38% of New Hampshire students scored proficient or above in math in 2020 (down from 48% in 2019), and 52% scored proficient or above in reading in 2020 (down from 56% in 2019). 

HB 607 would allow local voters to decide whether to let parents spend some of the money set aside for educating their children on services offered outside of their assigned public school. 

The funds would have to be used for their intended purpose: to educate children. The difference is that families would have the choice of keeping their children in the assigned public school or spending their allotted education dollars on services offered by other providers.

Either way, the money goes to educate children. At issue is who decides which education services to purchase. Do school district officials decide, or do parents?

Initially, political prospects for the bill were considered dim, in large part because the EFA concept was so new in New Hampshire. But the state’s new EFA program has experienced higher-than-expected demand. More than 1,600 students chose an EFA this past fall. 

There’s now a proven interest in education alternatives in New Hampshire. And because the bill would not mandate local EFAs, but would merely let voters choose whether to adopt them, it might have a stronger chance of passage than originally believed.