For Immediate Release ContactDeb Howes
State Education Commissioner Sued Over Funding of Voucher Program
CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire is violating the N.H. Constitution and state law by using state lottery dollars and money from the Education Trust Fund to fund the state’s private school voucher program called the Education Freedom Account program, according to a complaint filed today in state court against state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut.
The complaint (https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/2022/Howes-v-Edelblut-Complaint.pdf) is asking the Merrimack County Superior Court for an injunction against use of these funds intended for New Hampshire public schools for the voucher program.
It says: “If the state desires to operate an Education Freedom Account or similar program, whereby it grants public money for parents to utilize for private use, it must separately fund it through additional taxation or another source of funds,” noting there currently is no mechanism for doing so.
The N.H. Constitution states that “all moneys received from a state-run lottery and all interest received on such moneys shall, after deducting the necessary costs of administration, be appropriated and used exclusively for the school districts of the state.” It also states that this money “shall not be transferred or diverted to any other purpose.”
State law says that the Education Trust Fund money “shall not be used for any purpose other than to distribute adequate education grants to municipalities’ school districts and to approved charter schools.”
The complaint, brought by Deb Howes as a citizen taxpayer—she is also the president of AFT-New Hampshire—decried the illegal diversion of state money dedicated to public education for the private school voucher program.
“The state specifically earmarked this money for public education. Instead, the state is stealing from public school students in plain sight to pay for its private voucher program. Public school students are losing out on millions of dollars that are needed to fix leaky old buildings, purchase and maintain modern computer equipment, buy books and materials published at least in the last decade to support student learning, and provide more social and emotional assistance and other needs that will help students excel,” Howes said. “If Commissioner Edelblut wants to continue with his cherished voucher program, he needs to figure out a legal way to fund it, but definitely not on the backs of public school students.”
Parents can use Education Freedom Account grants for tuition and fees for private schools and private online learning programs, private tutoring services, textbooks, computer hardware and software, school uniforms, fees for testing, summer programs, therapies, higher education tuition and fees and transportation. In 2021, Amazon was the biggest beneficiary of the EFA program, reaping 18.2 percent, or $437,736, of the total funds released to parents, according to the complaint.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Edelblut’s crass diversion of funds is detrimental to the very students he is supposed to help in his role as commissioner.
“New Hampshire can’t fund its voucher program by illegally putting its hand in the taxpayer cookie jar that’s intended for public school students. It’s as simple as this: No matter what program the state wants to fund, it has to do it legally. The first priority should be fully funding public schools, so the state’s kids and teachers are getting the resources they need to learn and thrive. Any scheme to divert public funds into a voucher program without fully funding public schools first is an insult to the students, teachers and families of New Hampshire, not to mention a violation of the law,” Weingarten said. “Let’s stop attacking and undermining public education and start supporting our public schools and their students.”
# # #