School districts that offered less in-person instruction last year saw fewer students pass end-of-year standardized tests, a new academic study of student performance in 12 states has found. 

Pass rates declined across the board compared to prior years, but “these declines were larger in districts with less in-person instruction,” conclude researchers from Brown University, M.I.T., and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. 

During the 2020-21 school year, passing rates in math declined by 14.2 percentage points on average, and passing rates in English Language Arts declined by 6.3 percentage points on average, in the 12 studied states (which included Massachusetts, but not New Hampshire).

However, “offering full in-person instruction rather than fully hybrid or virtual instruction reduces test score losses in math by 10.1 percentage points (on the base of 14.2 percentage points). In ELA, the loss is reduced in fully in-person settings by 3.2 percentage points.”

Moreover, academic losses in English Language Arts were more pronounced in districts with larger populations of minority students.

“Specifically, among districts with a larger share of Black and Hispanic students, districts with less in-person schooling saw a greater decline in ELA test scores than those with more in-person schooling. Although the impact of schooling mode on ELA is fairly small for districts which are majority white, it is large for those districts with a majority of students of color. Meanwhile, the impact of access to in-person learning had a similar effect on math scores for all districts, regardless of their racial composition.”

The results support the conclusion that in-person instruction produces larger learning gains, on average, than hybrid and remote instruction, the authors write.

“…our analyses demonstrate that virtual or distanced schooling modes cannot support student learning in the same way as in-person schooling. As such, educational impacts of schooling mode on students’ learning outcomes should be a critical factor in policy responses to future pandemics or other large-scale schooling disruptions,” they conclude.

The authors are Emily Oster and Clare Halloran of Brown University, James Okun of M.I.T., and Rebecca jack of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

The study is not the first to find that remote and hybrid instruction produced large drops in academic performance. 

One from the Netherlands in April found that “students made little or no progress while learning from home.”

A meta-analysis this fall of 11 studies of COVID-related school closures on student performance found “a negative effect of school closures on student achievement, specifically in younger students and students from families with low socioeconomic status.”

These findings suggest that school closures probably were a significant factor in the drop in student test scores in New Hampshire last year. New Hampshire scores in math and reading dropped by percentages similar to those in other states. 

New Hampshire has once again retained its status as the most economically-free state in North America in this year’s Economic Freedom in North America report published by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think tank.

In both the continental and in-country rankings, New Hampshire finished first. Within the United States, Tennessee leapt past Florida to pull within a fraction of a point of the Granite State, showing how vulnerable New Hampshire’s position has become.

New Hampshire scored 7.83 out of 10 in this year’s report (down from 7.84 last year), beating out second-place Tennessee (7.82).

Economic freedom — the ability of individuals to make their own economic decisions about what to buy, where to work and whether to start a business — is fundamental to prosperity.

“When governments allow markets to decide what’s produced, how it’s produced and how much is produced, citizens enjoy greater levels of economic freedom,” said Fred McMahon, the Dr. Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom at the Fraser Institute and co-author of this year’s Economic Freedom of North America report, which measures government spending, taxation and labor market restrictions using data from 2019, the latest year of available comparable data.

“New Hampshire ranks as the freest state in the union again this year, but just barely,” Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy President Andrew Cline said. “As other states aggressively liberalize their economies, New Hampshire risks falling behind.”

Tennessee, ranked the 5th most economically free U.S. state in last year’s report, shot to within one one-hundredth of a point of tying New Hampshire for first place this year, Cline pointed out. The rankings are based on 2019 data. Tennessee’s interest and dividends tax was eliminated on Jan. 1 of this year, which will give it an advantage over New Hampshire in upcoming rankings, as our I&D tax lingers for five years until fully phased out.

Though New Hampshire leads all of its New England neighbors in economic freedom, Southern states are catching up by cutting taxes, spending and regulations. Rounding out the top five freest states are Florida (3rd), Texas (4th) and Virginia (5th).

At the other end of the index, New York (50th) is once again the least-free state followed by California (49th), Vermont (48th), West Virginia (47th) and New Mexico (46th). New York ranked last in the report for the seventh year in a row.

The other New England states are ranked as follows: Massachusetts (19th), Connecticut (21st), Rhode Island (41st), Maine (43rd), and Vermont (48th).

Across North America, the least-free quartile of jurisdictions had an average per- capita income 1.0 percent below the national average compared to 7.5 percent above the national average for the most-free quartile.

“Hundreds of independent studies have produced overwhelming evidence that higher levels of economic freedom are associated with more opportunity, more prosperity, greater economic growth, more investment and more jobs,” said Dean Stansel, report co-author and economist at Southern Methodist University.

The report measures the ability of individuals to act in the economic sphere free of undue restrictions by ranking states on 10 variables in three areas: 1. Government Spending; 2. Taxes; and 3. Labor Market Regulation.

The Economic Freedom of North America report (also co-authored by José Torra, the head of research at the Mexico City-based Caminos de la Libertad) is an offshoot of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World index, the result of more than a quarter century of work by more than 60 scholars, including three Nobel laureates.

Detailed tables for each country and subnational jurisdiction can be found at www.fraserinstitute.org.

Or you can read the full report here: EFNA-2021-US-POST

On September 28, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe said in a debate, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision. I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Before that debate, McAuliffe had led Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin in every poll but one. The day after the debate, the Youngkin campaign released its first ad featuring McAuliffe’s quote. A month later, Youngkin was leading in all polls. He won, with parental authority in education being a defining issue of the race. 

The issue wasn’t new for Virginians. In his term as governor, McAuliffe had vetoed a bill to alert parents when sexually explicit material was being taught to their children. This year, he supported COVID-19 vaccination and mask mandates for all schools. 

The issue wasn’t primarily about books or education theory. It was about the nature of public school governance. 

Broadly speaking, some people believe public schools should be more democratic than bureaucratic in nature. That is, they largely should reflect the views of local families and taxpayers and be responsive to parents. Another camp generally views public schools as “government schools.” That is, they exist as a sort of government bureaucracy, the purpose of which is to disseminate whatever content the experts in the field determine is best. 

McAuliffe expressed the latter view, and he paid for it. 

In practice, public schools tend to be a mix of both views, and the question is how far do they tip to one side or the other. McAuliffe refused to acknowledge that a balance exists, and he picked the wrong side of the scale.

A huge amount of trust is necessary for public education to work. When parents put their kids on the bus or drop them at the school door, they are exercising tremendous trust, built in part on the understanding that they have some say in what happens inside the building. If they are told otherwise, trust immediately breaks down. 

A USA Today/Suffolk poll in October found that 50% of voters said parents should have more of an influence over school curricula, while 39% said school boards should. Independents (57%) and Republicans (79%) favored parents, but Democrats favored school boards 70%-16%.

According to exit polls, Youngkin won parents of school-aged children 52%-48%. Just the year before, Joe Biden won that same group of Virginians by 10 points. (Biden also won non-parents by 15 points, and Youngkin won them by 50%-49%.)

Polls before the election showed education surging to become a top 3 issue for voters in the final month. It wasn’t the only reason Youngkin won. But education probably tipped the election to Youngkin — because he expressed the view that the “public” in “public schools” meant citizens, not government. 

Youngkin’s victory was not just a revolt of parents. Americans who don’t have children in public schools have developed a sense of dissatisfaction with public education too. There’s a broad sense of powerlessness that comes through in public polling going back decades. 

In Gallup polling, the public hasn’t reported having a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in public schools since 1987. Confidence in public schools has hovered in the mid-to-low 30s since 2010. Most Americans (54%) this year say they’re dissatisfied with what’s taught in K-12 public schools. 

A FOX News poll last month found that 73% of Americans said they were very concerned about what was being taught in public schools. Again, that’s not new. The figure was 85% in a FOX poll in 2013.

The sense of powerlessness against the bureaucracy was reflected in polling about school closures during COVID, when parents were given limited options. In March, when roughly a third of students had no access to in-person schooling, 79% of parents said they wanted school to be in person. 

That feeling of powerlessness is a big reason why school choice polls so well. Parents educational want options, and the general public agrees they should have options. 

In October, already broad support for school choice rose as parents’ role in education became a national political issue. The national tracking poll by EdChoice found that 70% of Americans support Education Savings Accounts, and 80% of parents do. 

Current controversies such as COVID-19 closures, mask mandates and Critical Race Theory did not create the demand that public schools be more responsive to parental and community concerns. That demand was already there. They made it stronger and broader.

The harder politicians work to keep parents (and citizens) on the outside of the system, the less parents and citizens will trust the system. Lower trust fuels greater demands for alternatives. Politicians who think they’re defending public schools by building walls to keep parents and citizens out are really undermining them by alienating the people they are intended to serve — and who have the power of the vote. 

Energy prices are spiking as 2021 comes to a close and winter creeps in. Rising prices for gasoline, natural gas, home heating oil and propane are going to make this an expensive winter in New Hampshire. 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has predicted that natural gas prices will be 27% higher this winter, home heating oil 33% higher, and propane 49% higher. 

The Consumer Energy Alliance projects that these higher prices will cause Americans to spend $13.6 billion more for energy this year. 

Why? Demand for energy is rising faster than the supply of fuel. The economic slowdown caused by the pandemic prompted oil and gas companies to scale back production. The surprising speed of the economic recovery has sent demand surging. 

“A lot less product is available to meet this now rapid growth we’re seeing,” Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Darren Woods said last month, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

The International Energy Agency reported in its World Energy Outlook last month that the world is underinvesting in energy production.

It reiterated that point in its October Oil Market Report, writing that “the world is not investing enough to meet its future energy needs. Transition-related spending is gradually picking up, but remains far short of what is required to meet the rising demand for energy services in a sustainable way. At the same time, the amount being spent on oil appears to be geared towards a world of stagnant or falling demand.”

In addition, reduced natural gas production has sent natural gas prices so high that industries around the world are switching to dirtier-burning oil and coal, the IEA reported. 

Every environmental activist group that successfully blocked a fracking project or a new natural gas pipeline, or successfully pressured a company or government to reduce natural gas production, can take partial credit for increased oil and coal emissions this year. Well done.

President Biden’s changing positions on energy production offer a nice illustration of how environmental rhetoric collides with economic reality. 

Caving to pressure from radical environmental groups, candidate Biden promised to ban new oil and gas drilling on federal land and to focus on rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels. But the Biden Administration is actually approving new leases. And the president has responded to surging fossil fuel prices by urging G20 countries to boost production and calling on OPEC and Russia to produce more oil. 

This is in direct conflict with climate pledges. The IEA calculates that global oil and gas investment is down roughly 26% this year — and will need to stay there for years, before dropping further, to reach the goals of the Paris Accord, which Biden in January committed the United States to rejoining.

Major investments are being made in renewable energy production, which is great. But that sector still accounts for only 12% of U.S. energy production, according to the EIA. Petroleum accounts for 32% and natural gas for 36%. 

If energy demand were shrinking, then investments in additional oil, gas or nuclear production would be of questionable value. But demand is growing and is projected to continue growing both domestically and globally. Since neither renewable nor nuclear power is ready to fill the country’s immediate and short-term energy needs, it falls to fossil fuels to plug the gap.

Nuclear should be a bigger part of this mix. Again, we can thank environmental activists for playing a large role in limiting the growth of the nuclear power industry.

One day, humans might fill all of their energy needs without burning things. But it is not this day. And it won’t be a day that arrives anytime soon. 

As humans strive to achieve that laudable goal, civilization will continue to require power. Generating that power will require fuel that can be converted to reliable, affordable energy now, not 50 years from now. 

Pretending that this isn’t true will not help anyone. It will only hurt people as it causes either ongoing price increases or energy shortages, or both.  

The Josiah Bartlett Center’s new study of local residential land use regulations provides a first-ever ranking of N.H. municipalities’ local housing restrictions.

The study ranks N.H. municipalities by the inelasticity of their housing supply, that is, by how much local conditions, especially land-use regulations, restrict the ability of the private sector to provide new housing in response to rising demand. 

Excessive residential land use restrictions have sharply restricted New Hampshire’s housing supply, our study finds. That supply shortage has led to dramatically higher housing prices, increased income segregation, larger gaps in educational performance, slower economic growth, and slower population growth.

The ten municipalities where housing is most restricted are:

 

1.     New Castle

2.     Rye

3.     Portsmouth

4.     Newington

5.     New London

6.     Hanover

7.     North Hampton

8.     Moultonboro

9.     Hampton Falls

10.  Waterville Valley

 

The ten municipalities where housing is least restricted are:

  1. Ellsworth
  2. Hart’s Location
  3. Hale’s Location
  4. Stratford
  5. Northumberland
  6. Berlin
  7. Colebrook
  8. Stewartstown
  9. Warren
  10. Clarksville

Why have house prices and rents increased so much in New Hampshire? A new Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy study finds that residential land use regulations, mostly at the local level, are a major cause.

Examples of local regulations that prevent people from building homes include: minimum lot sizes, frontages and setbacks, single-family-only requirements, bureaucratic requirements for accessory dwelling units, maximum heights and densities, minimum parking requirements, historic and village district requirements, municipal land ownership, subdivision regulations, impact fees, and simply the unwillingness of zoning boards to issue variances.

Widely available measures show that New Hampshire is one of the most restrictive states in the country for residential development. By suppressing building, land-use regulations drive up the price of housing as demand rises. Removing or relaxing these regulations would allow prices to rise more gradually.

Consequences

The consequences of housing scarcity for our state are significant. This study finds that residential land use regulations are associated with growing socioeconomic segregation and slowing population growth.

As housing becomes more expensive, fewer people are moving to New Hampshire, especially to those towns that are most expensive. Those who stay are disproportionately wealthy and college-educated, while middle- and lower-income families leave because they cannot find affordable housing.

Costly housing in towns with better schools also limits families’ access to educational opportunity. Finally, the sprawl caused by anti-density policies such as minimum lot sizes increases drive times and road maintenance costs and worsens air and water quality.

Causes

New Hampshire municipalities have enacted these restrictions on growth for several reasons. First, there is a widespread perception that allowing home-building would increase the number of children in local schools. However, the other side of the home-building equation is that new home construction leads to substantial growth in the tax base, relieving the tax burden on the rest of the town. Moreover, school populations are falling across most of the state, and so adding more children would not necessarily require more spending. So the “fiscal” motivation for restricting home-building does not make much sense today.

Rent-seeking

The main reason for growing development restrictions seems to be “rent-seeking.” In other words, some homeowners in the towns with the biggest housing demand see zoning as a way of boosting their wealth by artificially limiting the supply of housing.

This process may have gotten out of hand now, though, as pandemic-driven housing demand has well outstripped supply. Many Granite Staters have seen their homes rise in value, but this rise may be merely notional, because it is now so difficult to find a new house after selling the old one. The rapid aging of the New Hampshire population makes reform to relax local planning and zoning regulations all the more crucial.

As the rent-seeking explanation would predict, the places with the most stringent rules on building new homes tend to be the ones that historically saw big growth in housing demand. Portsmouth, Hanover, and some of their surrounding towns are among the most regulated towns in the state, along with a few Lakes Region and White Mountains locations. Some of the wealthier suburbs of Manchester and Nashua – Hollis, Windham, and Bedford – are also near the top of the list.

By contrast, the inland Appalachian belt of New Hampshire, running from western Cheshire County to the North Country, is the least regulated part of the state. There’s a definite trend in the historical data, whereby towns that saw large growth in the 1960s and 1970s enacted restrictions that then choked off growth in the later 1980s and 1990s. By contrast, population density does not seem to correlate with increases in regulatory stringency, even though it may have been a motivation for towns to adopt zoning to begin with. Some of the towns with the strictest rules have low densities and very little industrial activity, like Hanover and Lyme.

Another correlation observed in the data finds that towns that lie nearby other towns that increased their restrictions on housing were themselves more likely to enact new restrictions on housing. In other words, municipal land-use regulation in New Hampshire looks like a kind of “arms race.” When one town tightens, others are also provoked to tighten so that they don’t get a disproportionate share of new housing construction. As a result, all towns end up with less construction and stricter regulations than they really want.

Policy solutions

To get out of the arms race and make decent homes affordable to Granite Staters of all ages and walks of life, policymakers and citizens have to understand how local land use regulations affect the supply and price of housing. Better policies will come from a better understanding of the downstream effects of these regulations.

In addition to showing how land use regulations affect housing supply and prices, this study suggests several state- and local-level policy changes that could provide relief.

At the local level, zoning ordinances could be revised to allow homes to be built on smaller lot sizes, with smaller frontages, and with smaller setbacks. Building permit caps could be removed. Multi-family housing options, such as duplexes and triplexes, could be allowed in additional locations. In urban areas, minimum parking and maximum height restrictions could be eased.

At the state level, the state could enact a regulatory takings compensation law, so that municipal governments would have to compensate landowners for new regulations that substantially take away the value of their property. The state could directly preempt the most egregious forms of exclusionary zoning, such as minimum lot sizes above a certain level and building permit caps. The state could also authorize towns to decentralize planning authority to neighborhood or even block levels. At such a small level, residents are unlikely to adopt rent-seeking forms of zoning, because builders and home-buyers could easily go elsewhere. State government could authorize municipal land-use compacts that would allow neighboring municipalities to offer multi-community planning, where the impacts of regulation on the whole commuting area could be considered. Finally, an open-enrollment law for public school choice would at least ameliorate one of the negative consequences of exclusionary zoning for middle- and low-income families: being locked out of good schools.

Top Ten Municipalities Where Housing Is Most Restricted

The study ranks N.H. municipalities by the inelasticity of their housing supply, that is, by how much local conditions, especially building and land-use regulations, restrict the ability to build new housing in response to rising demand. The ten most inelastic, regulated municipalities are:

  1. New Castle
  2. Rye
  3. Portsmouth
  4. Newington
  5. New London
  6. Hanover
  7. North Hampton
  8. Moultonboro
  9. Hampton Falls
  10. Waterville Valley

Download a copy of the full study here: Residential Land Use Regulations in New Hampshire Report

If you missed the event, the full video is posted on our YouTube channel here.

NOTE:

The Center for Ethics in Society and the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy have been gratified by the overwhelmingly positive response to the study, “Residential Land Use Regulations in New Hampshire: Causes and Consequences,” authored by Center for Ethics Director Jason Sorens and published by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy. However, in referring to this study in some contexts, we created some confusion by using the term “building regulations” instead of “land-use regulations.” In using the terminology of “building regulations” we did not intend to designate “building codes,” but rather regulations governing where and how housing is to be built on land in a given community. We do apologize for any confusion we may have caused.
 
To clarify, the overwhelming majority of the costs of developing new housing are due to land-use regulations found in zoning ordinances and the decisions of planning and zoning boards to approve or not approve projects. All the research suggests that life safety codes add only a small amount, in percentage terms, to the overall cost of housing. Accordingly, we have revised the title of the study to refer to “land use” rather than “building” regulations. Land use regulations are restricting what can be built where, and driving up the cost of housing.

New Hampshire’s official COVID-19 statistics continue to show the efficacy of vaccines in fighting infection, hospitalization and death from the ongoing pandemic. But this information is not included on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, nor in the daily or weekly COVID press releases, hindering the state’s vaccine promotion efforts. 

New Hampshire recorded its first breakthrough infection (a COVID-19 infection in a fully vaccinated patient) on January 20th of this year, the state Department of Health and Human Services reports. Since that date, only a small fraction of the state’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have occurred among fully vaccinated persons, according to data released to the Josiah Bartlett Center from the state Department of Health and Human Services. 

From Jan. 20-Sept. 24, 2021:

  • Only 3.5% of total COVID-19 infections (1,976 of 57,203) have occurred among fully vaccinated individuals;
  • Only 6.4% of initial hospitalizations (37 of 579) have occurred among fully vaccinated individuals;*
  • Only 6.5% of deaths from COVID-19 (28 of 430) have occurred among fully vaccinated individuals.

(*The state records COVID hospitalizations for those who were hospitalized upon the initial report of their infection. If someone is hospitalized after the initial report of infection, that would not be included in the hospitalization statistics. The state has always reported COVID hospitalizations this way.) 

While state data show that 96.5% of New Hampshire’s COVID-19 infections, 93.6% of initial hospitalizations and 93.5% of deaths have occurred among unvaccinated individuals since January 20th, these statistics are created manually within the department and thus are not part of the daily or weekly information released to the public. 

Making these statistics a regular part of the state’s vaccination message might help reduce vaccine hesitancy, polling suggests. 

And higher vaccination rates would improve the state’s economic prospects while accelerating the end of the pandemic. 

New Hampshire ranks 10th in the nation in the percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated (61%), according to the latest tracking data from Becker’s Hospital Review. Yet that percentage is well below all other New England states. The top five most vaccinated states are the five other New England states. 

Vaccine hesitancy has slowed the state’s vaccination efforts. According to a University of New Hampshire poll released Sept. 21, the top two reasons unvaccinated Granite Staters gave for not wanting the vaccine were: 1. They don’t trust it will be safe; and 2. They don’t believe it’s effective. 

Both of those fears run contrary to large amounts of publicly available data.

Regarding vaccine safety, the state could put more resources into promoting research that has shown the vaccines to be safe. A Harvard study of nearly 2 million Israelis, for example, found that not only were vaccine complications extremely rare, but conditions commonly associated with the vaccines — such as inflammation of the heart muscle — occurred more frequently in unvaccinated individuals who were infected with COVID than in individuals who received the vaccine. 

Regarding vaccine effectiveness, the state should make the vaccination statistics listed above part of its daily COVID reporting, as well as part of any public information campaign. 

Data highlighting the effectiveness of the vaccines should be put atop the state’s COVID-19 dashboard and should be made the focus of every press release and briefing.

People are getting a lot of bad information from unreliable sources. The state needs a more rigorous effort to counter misinformation with its own reliable data. 

State officials are aware that the vaccination data would help combat myths about the vaccines, but the statistics were not built into the initial reporting system, and a general manpower shortage has delayed the state’s effort to add them, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’re working on it, but it boils down to capacity,” HHS Director of Communications Jake Leon wrote in an email. “As you might imagine, we’re as busy as we’ve ever been but do not have as much access to temp staffing with the National Guard standing down.”

The public health reasons for publishing accurate information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines are obvious. There also are economic reasons. 

COVID-19’s negative economic impact is widely known, and that impact continues to push down economic forecasts. The National Association for Business Economics this week cut its economic growth forecast, largely due to fears over the prolonged presence of COVID-19. 

For those who want to see New Hampshire’s economy reach its maximum potential, a high vaccination rate for COVID-19 is vital. It’s hard to engage in free and open commerce when a potentially fatal communicable disease continues to suppress direct human interaction, reduce labor force participation and otherwise disrupt overall economic activity.  

As the federal government works to resettle Afghans who fled the Taliban, New Hampshire officials should ask Washington to send us more than our share.

From a humanitarian standpoint, the appeal is obvious. Giving refuge to freedom-loving people ill-treated by their own government is a tradition woven into the fabric of the nation.

For New Hampshire, there is an additional practical appeal. The state is desperate for people.

New Hampshire’s population growth in the last decade was the state’s lowest in a century. From 1960-2000, the state’s population roughly doubled, and from 1960-1990 it grew by more than 20% per decade. 

But from 2010-2020, the growth rate was down to 4.5%. That was the lowest growth rate since 1910-20, when it was a paltry 2.9%. 

New Hampshire has enjoyed sustained economic growth because people continued to relocate here. Close to 60% of New Hampshire’s population was born out-of-state. In the rest of New England, with its lower economic growth, the percentages are reversed, and about 60% of the population is native-born.

In the last decade, immigration accounted for 89% of New Hampshire’s population growth, according to an analysis of Census data by the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH.

Granite Staters aren’t having enough children to sustain a vibrant economy we’ve built here. New Hampshire has the second-lowest birth rate in the nation, at 8.8 live births per 1,000 people. That puts us just a hair behind the state with the nation’s lowest birth rate — Vermont. Its rate is 8.7. 

Were New Hampshire a country, it would have one of the lowest birth rates in the world. Our rate is lower than that of many Eastern Bloc countries whose populations and economies have been decimated by decades of misrule, corruption and poverty, including Latvia, Croatia, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Belarus.

The state’s economy has helped to counter the shrinking birth rate, and the foreign-born have always been an important part of the state’s immigrant population. 

In 1900, 21% of New Hampshire’s population was foreign-born, according to data compiled by the Carsey Institute at UNH. That has fallen to around 6%.

In the late 1800s, mill owners aggressively recruited foreign immigrants as Granite Staters moved away for better opportunities. The state even got into the act, creating a Commissioner of Immigration in an attempt to revive the declining agricultural sector.   

As early as the mid-1800s, New Hampshire and other New England states relied on immigration (often from what were then-considered less-desirable populations, including Irish, Germans, French-Canadians and Poles). In his 1871 book on farming, Horace Greeley wrote that in some New England townships, farm work was “done mainly by foreign-born employees.”

The state’s economy is in much better shape today, but our massive labor shortage represents a threat to future growth.

New Hampshire has tens of thousands of job openings. A search on glassdoor.com shows more than 30,000 openings, and indeed.com shows more than 40,000. Yet the state’s latest employment report showed only 22,210 unemployed Granite Staters and an unemployment rate of 3%. 

Afghan immigrants have a long and successful record of migration to the United States. The crime rate of Afghan immigrants is 11.6 times lower than the crime rate of native-born Americans, according to crime data analyzed by Alex Nowrasteh and Michelangelo Landgrave of the Cato Institute. 

During the Cold War, the United States prioritized refugees from Communist countries and screened them for Communist sympathies and associations. Cuban and Vietnamese refugees famously became two extraordinarily patriotic refugee groups after being resettled in the United States.

Similarly, Afghan refugees are screened twice for jihadist sympathies and terrorist connections, once overseas and again after arriving in the United States.

New Hampshire expects only 100-200 Afghan refugees. Even10 times that number would not be enough to provide a statewide economic lift. But for the businesses desperate for help, every hire matters.   

And if there’s any group of people who should be welcomed in the “Live free or die” state, it is refugees who literally lived that motto by risking their lives for freedom. 

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.

In May, Foster’s Daily Democrat reported the exciting news that celebrity chef Bobby Marcotte planned to convert an abandoned Portsmouth gas station into a unique Asian-Spanish fusion restaurant. 

Portsmouth has a certain cachet, cultivated by its inhabitants as well as its government. One might think that a super-fashionable, high-concept restaurant helmed by a local celebrity chef would be just the sort of thing to sail through the city’s approval process.

One might also be unfamiliar with just how absurd local zoning restrictions can be.

On August 17th, the restaurant concept that was met with such fanfare in May was rejected by a 4-3 vote of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The Portsmouth Herald report can be read here.

The reason for the rejection? 

To make the restaurant work, Marcotte needed the ability to seat up to 100 customers during warm weather. The current zoning caps restaurant capacity at 50. 

Larry Gormley, attorney for Marcotte and his business Partner Paul Simbilaris, explained that the converted space would seat 50 people inside year-round, with an additional 40-50 people outside on a new patio when weather permits. 

The capacity would be “up to 90 or 100 at peak in the appropriate season,” Gormley said.

Board member Beth Margeson objected, saying the additional seating would bring too much traffic and parking to the neighborhood.

Gormley pointed out that the restaurant is within walking distance of the city’s new parking garage, which is where restaurant employees will be required to park.

Gormely didn’t say, but might have added, that the location is 0.4 miles (less than a 10 minute walk) from TWO parking garages, including the city’s new, $26 million Foundry Place garage, which the city itself acknowledges is only half full on a daily basis.  

The city built that garage for the express purpose of enabling additional commercial activity in the city, given the relative scarcity of on-street parking. 

The city has had several meetings to try to figure out how to increase the five-story garage’s use, as it has remained well under capacity since it opened in 2018. 

And yet the Zoning Board of Adjustment continues to cite on-street parking as a reason to reject commercial development within a short walk of the multi-million-dollar taxpayer-funded garage. 

“We think we’re presenting an amenity for people to walk to and from the area,” Gormley explained. 

But a majority on the board couldn’t see that.

Some members fixated on the current zoning’s 50-seat capacity limit and the idea that an increase might have people parking on side streets when the patio is open. 

Gormley didn’t even win over any board members when he described this restaurant’s food as “Asian-infused tacos.”

Not a single board member leapt up and screamed, “ASIAN TACOS!!”

Which seems weird. Not ASIAN TACOS. Those seem delicious. It seems weird that no one stood up and screamed, “ASIAN TACOS!!”

Even weirder, four Zoning Board members willingly chose an abandoned gas station over… ASIAN TACOS.

Not all board members chose a vacant service station over tacos filled, presumably, with things like General Tso’s chicken or seafood tempura. 

Board member Arthur Parrott said the restaurant “will be a net gain to the neighborhood and the city as a whole because the one thing that’s clear to everybody is what’s there now is an eyesore and is long deserving of an improvement. Does a gas station belong there? No, but it’s there, and we have to deal with it.”

That’s precisely the choice the board had. It was either an abandoned gas station, or a 50-seat ASIAN TACO restaurant with an additional 40-50 seasonal patio seats. 

But the nays envisioned a third option — a magical Ideal Use that would perfectly fit the zoning ordinance and be commercially viable for the long term, but which, mysteriously, no one has proposed in all the years the ordinance has existed.

“I think this is just too much restaurant use,” Margeson said.  

She added later that the property is “just seemingly cursed or something, I don’t know.”

Explaining his yes vote, Parrott said he’s voted four times on proposals to convert the property to a better use, and yet it remains an eyesore gas station. 

Given that record, maybe the property is cursed. 

Maybe, just maybe, the curse is that city officials have dictated an extremely narrow range of approved uses for the property, none of which is economically viable under current market conditions.

A majority of the board imagines that on some glorious day, someone will appear before them and propose a use that is both profitable and consistent with the severe restrictions set by the city’s ordinance.

Until that day, however, they’ll ensure that the property remains an abandoned gas station.