Education Freedom Accounts (Voucher Program)
What is it?
In 2021, the legislature passed “Education Freedom Accounts” a fancy way of saying a school voucher program. The voucher program takes money intended for our neighborhood public schools, on average $5,000 per student, and gives it to a child to spend on “educational expenses.” This can range from tuition for private school, to tutor or books or pens and pencils. However, without proper oversight, which this voucher program does not have, in other states we have seen it used for trips to Disney World and other non-education related items. There is also nothing in this voucher program that stops our public tax dollars from being spent on programs that discriminate against people.
The program has no checks and balances. The first three years has produced a program that is stunningly over budget and with no evidence that any of our tax money is being spent to improve educational outcomes. In fact, nationwide, these voucher programs have produced worse educational outcomes for students who left public schools using a voucher to make a different choice than students who have stayed in their neighborhood public schools, even considering how underfunded public schools are.
The program was also billed as an opportunity for those who are struggling in their neighborhood public schools to be able to take the voucher and either use the money at a private school or for homeschooling. However, what we have seen from this program is that it is students who are already in private school or homeschooling who are taking the voucher. This is true for almost 90% of the students in NH’s voucher program.
The voucher program is not unique to New Hampshire. Legislatures, led by anti-education politicians, across the country have passed similar programs. In other states, with voucher programs have been in place longer, we are now seeing private schools that receive voucher money increase their tuition.
What is its impact?
New Hampshire is already last in the nation for public school funding. Our state funds our schools minimally and leaves each city and town responsible for the majority of the funding of our schools. Due to that our property taxes continue to rise and many in our communities struggle to afford ever-rising property tax rates. By diverting the little state money that is spent on public schools already, we are going to see continued tax increases in our local communities or face drastic cuts in public school programs, even school closures.
What Are the Consequences?
Taking public money for non-public schools decreases the amount of state money available for our neighborhood public schools and will either cause property taxes to increase or cause schools to have to make drastic cuts to school programs like sports, robotics or arts in order to keep budgets down.
Why Are We Talking About This Now?
Right now, the voucher program is capped at 300% of the federal poverty level (or roughly $80,000) for a family of 4. The legislature is attempting to increase the cap to 350% (or $104,000!) for a family of four. Knowing that the program is primarily benefiting students already in private schools this dramatic increase means we will see more “new” state education expenses for private schools while still failing to properly fund our neighborhood public schools.
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