NH House Votes Down Two Bills to Expand School Vouchers, Passes Household Income Eligibility Cap from 350% to 500% of Federal Poverty Guidelines

NH House Votes Down Two Bills to Expand School Vouchers, Passes Household Income Eligibility Cap from 350% to 500% of Federal Poverty Guidelines


Thursday, February 8, 2024

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Linds Jakows

Communications Director, Granite State Progress

603-568-7002 or linds@granitestateprogress.org

NH House Votes Down Two Bills to Expand School Vouchers, Passes Household Income Eligibility Cap from 350% to 500% of Federal Poverty Guidelines

Bill Passed Despite Public Opposition, Public School Advocates Warn Lawmakers of Financial and Educational Consequences

CONCORD, NH – Today, the New Hampshire House of Representatives defeated two measures to expand school privatization and narrowly passed – by one vote – a bill to increase the income eligibility from 350% to 500% of the federal poverty guidelines, or $150,000 for a family of four.

NH House Floor Votes

HB 1561, would have expanded eligibility requirements for school vouchers to nine categories of students, including persistently bullied students, LGBTQ students, and those concerned about catching the common cold or flu, with no income restrictions. The House voted “Inexpedient to Legislate” on HB 1561 on a voice vote, following a failed “Ought to Pass” vote (185 – 197). Advocates pointed out that private and religious schools do not have to adhere to non-discrimination policies.

HB 1634, would have expanded the eligibility requirements for school vouchers to make them universal. The House voted “Inexpedient to Legislate” on HB 1634 on a voice vote, following a failed “Ought to Pass” vote (186-194).

HB 1665, would further expand eligibility for vouchers from 350% to 500% of the federal poverty guidelines. The House voted “Ought to Pass” on HB 1665, 190-189. The FN (fiscal note) on HB 1665 was waived by the House Finance Committee Chair; the bill will next go to the State Senate for further consideration.

The bills faced widespread public opposition during the House Education Committee public hearings: HB 1561: Oppose – 970; Support – 48; HB 1634: Oppose – 1,107; Support – 53; HB 1665: Oppose – 954; Support – 46.

Background on NH School Voucher Eligibility

At present, school vouchers are available to families who earn 350% of the federal poverty guidelines – an increase from the original 300% cap. Universal school voucher programs overwhelmingly subsidize education for wealthy families who have never had a child in the public school system; a report by Reaching Higher NH states that 75% of school vouchers in New Hampshire have gone to students who already attended a private or religious school.

NH School Vouchers Already 275% Over Budget

Reaching Higher NH also reported that New Hampshire’s current school voucher program will divert over $24 million from public schools in the 2023-2024 school year  – or 275% over the initial budget estimates since the program started in 2021. According to their data analysis, universal school vouchers could cost over $105 million per year. 

Study: Student Performance Worse in School Voucher Programs

Additionally, when states collect data on students who use school vouchers, those students do not report improved outcomes compared to their publicly educated peers. In fact, in a study on the impact of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, they performed worse after participating in their state’s school voucher program – which is consistent with findings in other states

Public education advocates are deeply concerned about the financial and educational impact of expanded school vouchers in New Hampshire. Statements below:

Sarah Robinson, Education Justice Campaign Director, Granite State Progress, said: “The vast majority of Granite Staters choose a strong public education for their children, but school privatization politicians are working to expand New Hampshire’s school voucher program and take public dollars away from public schools. We are thankful for state legislators who voted down two school privatization bills, and are disappointed in the passage of a third bill that will expand school vouchers to wealthy families at the expense of all public school students. The New Hampshire Senate now has a choice: continue to bend over backward to privatize education, or begin to turn the tide against a wildly expensive program that raises property taxes and defunds the neighborhood public schools where 86% of us choose to send our children.” 

Megan Tuttle, President of NEA-NH, said: “NEA-New Hampshire is grateful bipartisan lawmakers rejected a bill to establish universal vouchers, however, we remain concerned that today’s vote to expand vouchers to higher income families brings us closer to that reality, which would blow a hole in New Hampshire’s state budget and jeopardize the future of state funding for public schools. The data is clear: very few students are using vouchers to change schools. Instead, the majority of voucher recipients were already in private or homeschool, which has caused the program to run over budget – a cost that will ultimately be borne by property taxpayers. It continues to be immensely disappointing that a majority of state lawmakers are hyper fixated on expanding this unsustainable program at all costs while ignoring the state’s chronic underfunding of our public schools, which the vast majority of Granite State students and families attend, trust, and rely on.”

Deb Howes, President of AFT-NH, said: “There are 165,000 students and their families who trust and rely on our local neighborhood public schools for their education, and today the New Hampshire House let them down. Rather than focus on improving education funding so public educational opportunities are just as robust in Berlin and Claremont as they are in Bedford and WIndham, today the New Hampshire House voted to expand school vouchers. While we are thankful the House exercised appropriate caution and fiscal restraint in defeating two unlimited school voucher bills, it did increase the income eligibility for the school voucher program to 500% of the federal poverty level. Our public school students, our local neighborhood public schools, and our local property taxpayers deserve better than pouring more tax money into a program that has been over budget and has not shown evidence of improved academic outcomes, all while the State of New Hampshire is still failing to meet its constitutional duty to fully fund its public schools.”

Tia Winter, Lebanon School Board member, said: “Ideally, the school voucher program would provide equitable educational opportunities for all. The unfortunate reality is, data from the Reagan administration to today indicates voucher programs do not establish equitable education, but are primarily used to give a financial break to wealthy families already established in private schools or homeschooling. Additionally, taxpayers deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent. If a homeschooling household or private school is receiving tax funds, they need to provide transparency in how these funds are being used so the taxpayers can be assured their tax dollars are being used responsibly. Strong public schools make strong, safe communities. There is no societal or community-wide benefit to taking public funds away from the public schools to give a financial break to wealthier families, especially if there is no oversight of these programs.” 

Janine Lesser, Peterborough Representative on the Conval School Board, said: “The overwhelming majority of people in the nine towns of the ConVal School District are appalled at the Republican legislature’s aggressive establishment and expansion of the voucher program. This while the legislature not only continues to ignore Judge Ruoff’s directive to increase public school funding, but pushes ahead to empty the Education Trust Fund into the General Fund, depriving public schools of their only protected funding.

Micaela Demeter, Dover School Board Member, said: “Recent court rulings have upheld what Granite Staters have known for decades: NH underfunds its public schools by the largest margin in the entire country, downshifting about 70% of the true costs onto taxpayers in local districts.  To borrow a concept I frequently use with my children, our legislature needs to do its constitutionally mandated duty and adequately fund public schools – the “Must Do” – rather than continuing to siphon public funds into private education – a “Want To” for some in our state.  Today a group of self-identified fiscally conservative legislators voted to expand eligibility for the “Want To” school voucher program, which will cost New Hampshire taxpayers tens of millions of dollars that could – and should – be used to support students in public schools.  The irony of this decision does not escape me.”