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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Media Contact

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.”

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After Back-To-Back Deadly Shootings at NH Hospital and in Manchester, NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition Urges Action To Prevent Future Tragedies

CONCORD, NH – After two deadly shootings in New Hampshire this weekend — one at the NH State Hospital in Concord on Friday night and one in Manchester early on Saturday morning — members of the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition released the following statements.

“The NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition extends our heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of Bradley Haas, the Franklin Police Department, the NH State Police, the staff and patients at NH Hospital, and everyone impacted in the surrounding Concord community,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins, director of GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress. “We also commend the quick actions of the state officer who engaged and disabled the shooter, thereby ensuring that there were no additional victims. That officer unquestionably saved lives on Friday, and we are grateful.”

“An entire community was affected by the shooting at New Hampshire Hospital,” said Tracy Hahn-Burkett of the Kent Street Coalition, a member of the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition. “Hospital employees hid behind desks and barricaded themselves in closets, Concord residents heard the blares of sirens, and people all over the area wondered, ‘Is it our turn now?’ This is what living in a nation that accepts gun violence as a way of life has done. Despite Governor Chris Sununu and Attorney General Formella’s insistence that New Hampshire is the safest state in the nation, New Hampshire has never been immune from gun violence. Friday’s shooting shone a spotlight on that truth. It’s important to note that the prohibition of firearms on NH State Hospital grounds made it easy for law enforcement to identify the shooter. The same might not be said in situations where law enforcement arrives in an active shooter situation amongst multiple armed individuals and the potential for confusion and additional loss of life is even greater. How many more shootings will it take—how many more people have to die—before our elected representatives will follow the will of the people and enact reasonable gun violence prevention measures to reduce the bloodshed and fear in the Granite State?”

“Back to back shootings happened here in New Hampshire, Concord on Friday, and Manchester on Saturday. Gun violence is here in the Granite State and we need to take meaningful action to prevent and deter future tragedy,” said State Senator Debra Altschiller, a prime sponsor and champion of gun violence prevention legislation. “Our hearts are broken for the victims’ families. They have our deepest condolences and promise to keep working to prevent other families from this unimaginable pain.”

“If there is anything that proves just how unsafe we are in this moment, it’s the fact that not even a retired police chief working in a secure state facility equipped with metal detectors is safe from the ever-present risk of gun violence,” said State Representative David Meuse, a prime sponsor and champion of gun violence prevention legislation. “Empty reassurances and gaslighting talk that feeds the notion that residents are “safe” in a state with some of the weakest gun safety laws in the country denies the reality of what we have all just experienced—and what two families will live with forever.”

“Every person in our country should be able to go to school, church, the grocery store, a hospital, the movie theater, or simply walk down the street without fear of gun violence,” said Rice Hawkins. “Gun violence is a uniquely American problem, and it is preventable. States like New Hampshire and Maine are not immune to the public health crisis that is gun violence, and no community ever expects to be the next national headline until they are. Across the country, there have been more than 606 mass shootings in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and firearms are the number one cause of death for American children. When our state legislature returns to work in January, we demand that they pass bills that will prevent future gun violence, for our children and our futures.”

The NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition urges Governor Chris Sununu and the New Hampshire State Legislature to support proven policies to prevent and reduce gun violence, such as closing background checks loopholes, creating a waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm, allowing extreme risk protection orders, passing a state gun free schools law, and limiting assault weapons and high capacity magazines. All of these are popular, bipartisan policies that will have a direct impact on reducing gun violence and make our communities safer.

The NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition thanks NAMI New Hampshire for sharing the Department of Health and Human Services call center for family members of New Hampshire Hospital patients and staff looking for information about their loved ones. The phone number is (603) 271-3004. 

NAMI also reminds community members that the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and NH Rapid Response are available at 833-710-6477, which provides access to NH-based Mobile Crisis Response. 

About the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition: The NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition has worked together for the last decade to protect and advance common sense public safety laws. Members include gun violence prevention advocates, moms, medical professionals, gun owners, veterans, law enforcement, elected officials, school administrators, educators, students, and faith leaders, and organizations representing various constituencies.  The coalition is convened by GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress. The annual NH Gun Violence Prevention Summit is scheduled for Saturday, December 9th.


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NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition Statements on President Biden Announcing First-Ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

President Joe Biden in front of the White House, with words: Win! President Biden announces 1st ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention!

New office will focus on implementing executive and legislative action, including historic Bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed by President Biden

CONCORD, NH – Today, President Biden announced the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention. The office will be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris, with support from key national gun violence prevention leaders.

Read more details from the White House here

Members of GunSense NH and the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition released the following statements:

Zandra Rice Hawkins, director of GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress, and a member of the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition: “We applaud President Biden for his urgency in addressing the deep and harmful impacts of gun violence in our country. The first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention builds off the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and is another concrete step forward to protect our families, our schools, and our communities. We all deserve a future without gun violence. Working together, we can make that happen. We call on Congress and our state leaders to do their part to address the epidemic of gun violence that continues to harm our communities and our futures.”

State Representative David Meuse, prime sponsor of state gun violence prevention bills and a member of the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition: “President Biden’s announcement of the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention is a welcome relief for all of us who continue to raise our voices so we can have a future without constant threat of gun violence. Serious action is needed to keep all of our loved ones safe and to save lives, and we’re thankful the Biden administration is taking long-needed steps.”

State Senator Debra Altschiller, prime sponsor of state gun violence prevention bills and a member of the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition: “New Hampshire is not immune from gun violence, and despite growing support for gun safety policies, too many state legislatures have sided with the gun lobby over saving lives. That’s why strong actions like the Biden Administration’s today are so crucial.”

Heidi Carrington Heath, Executive Director of NH Council of Churches and a member of the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition: “Gun violence is not just a policy issue, it is a moral, ethical and a theological issue as well. Our societies are only as strong as we care for our children, and when our children leave home and parents have to worry on a daily basis that they will be gunned down and not return home, something is very wrong. The new office created by President Biden provides an opportunity for safer communities, so that families can live and grow together.”

Tracy Hahn-Burkett, member of the Kent Street Coalition Leadership Team: “The Kent Street Coalition applauds the Biden Administration for taking this critical step today in the national effort to reduce the scourge of gun violence. As firearms have risen to become the leading cause of death for children and youth in America, it has become clear that stemming this uniquely American problem must become a greater priority. The people of our state and our country deserve better than to live in fear as they go about their daily lives, and we look forward to working with this new Office of Gun Violence Prevention to achieve that goal.”

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The NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition has worked together for the last decade to protect and advance common sense public safety laws. Members include gun violence prevention advocates, moms, medical professionals, gun owners, veterans, law enforcement, elected officials, school administrators, educators, students, and faith leaders, and organizations representing various constituencies.  The coalition is convened by GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress.

Inaugural NH Guns to Gardens Event Helps Granite Staters Remove 31 Unwanted Firearms from Circulation, Including AR-15

GunSense NH volunteer uses a chop saw to disable a firearm

Inaugural NH Guns to Gardens Event Helps Granite Staters Remove 31 Unwanted Firearms from Circulation, Including AR-15

*** Pictures and short video/audio available by request ***

GunSense NH, NH Council of Churches, Kent Street Coalition, and other members of the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition offered opportunity for Granite Staters to safely dispose of unwanted guns without putting them back out on the market; giveback gun program is the first New Hampshire event of national effort

CONCORD, NH – During a “Guns to Gardens” event in Concord today, gun violence prevention advocates helped community members remove 31 unwanted firearms from circulation, including an AR-15.

“Many Americans are realizing that having a firearm in the home can increase the chances of someone creating harm to themselves or others,” said Nancy Brown, Guns to Gardens Project Coordinator for GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress. “I’m excited that Gun Sense NH and our coalition partners are sponsoring the first of what, we hope, will become an annual Guns to Gardens event. These events provide the opportunity for unwanted guns to be permanently taken out of circulation, making our homes and communities safer places to live, work, go to school, and play.”

“We are at a watershed moment in this country when it comes to preventing gun violence,” said Rev. Heidi Carrington Heath, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches. “It should be easier to get rid of unwanted guns, and when laws prevent that, we must do it ourselves. This event is a step toward creating a world with fewer guns, and less gun violence.”

The event was hosted by GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress, the NH Council of Churches, Kent Street Coalition, and other members of the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition. Concord Wesley United Methodist Church in Concord provided the space for the event.

Nationally, Guns to Gardens events provide the opportunity for gun owners to bring their unwanted firearms to a location for volunteers to provide the service of disabling those firearms and turning them into garden tools. Under state law, New Hampshire law enforcement officials are prohibited from destroying firearms which come into their possession and must either store the firearms, use them, or sell them back out on the market. Guns to Gardens provides an opportunity for Granite Staters to remove unwanted firearms from circulation.

Interested community members brought unloaded firearms in the trunk of a car or the bed of a truck and remained in the vehicle at all times. Guns were removed from vehicles by trained volunteers, double checked and disarmed, and then delivered to a chop saw operator who disabled the firearm. Scrap metal from the firearms was then donated and will next go to a metal artist to be later transformed into garden tools and other works of art. The event had a steady flow of community members all day long, with the first cars lining up at 10 am as the event opened.

“This effort is a great opportunity for Granite Staters who want to remove unwanted firearms from their homes without putting them back out on the market,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins, director of GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress. “We are excited that so many people came out to our first Guns to Gardens event with the goal to reduce unwanted firearms in our homes and instead transform them into something more useful, and less harmful, to our community.”

Two former members of law enforcement check a firearm to ensure it is ready to be dismantled
Two former members of law enforcement check a firearm to ensure it is ready to be dismantled
GunSense NH volunteer uses a chop saw to disable a firearm
GunSense NH volunteer uses a chop saw to disable a firearm
GunSense NH volunteer holds a piece of a disabled firearm post-chop saw
GunSense NH volunteer holds a piece of a disabled firearm post-chop saw
A box of scrap metal and material from unwanted firearms disable during the Guns to Gardens event
A box of scrap metal and material from unwanted firearms disable during the Guns to Gardens event

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About the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition: The NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition has worked together for the last decade to protect and advance common sense public safety laws. Members include gun violence prevention advocates, moms, medical professionals, gun owners, veterans, law enforcement, elected officials, school administrators, educators, students, and faith leaders, and organizations representing various constituencies.  The coalition is convened by GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress.

About Guns to Gardens: Guns to Gardens is hosted by GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress, the NH Council of Churches, Kent Street Coalition, and other partners. The first Guns to Gardens began as a project of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence and has grown into a nationwide effort to reduce the number of unwanted guns (and thereby gun deaths) in our country.  Supporting organizations include RAWtools, The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and the Gun Safety Alliance.

NH Guns to Gardens Event Allows Granite Staters to Turn Unwanted Firearms Into Garden Tools

Image of two guns with trees growing out of them; Text: Guns to Gardens; Subtext: Transforming unwanted guns into garden tools; Logos for GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress, NH Council of Churches, and the Kent Street Coalition

NH Guns to Gardens Event Allows Granite Staters to Turn Unwanted Firearms Into Garden Tools

*** Media Advisory for Saturday, June 10th ***

NH Guns to Gardens Event Allows Granite Staters to Turn Unwanted Firearms Into Garden Tools

GunSense NH, NH Council of Churches, Kent Street Coalition, and other members of the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition offer opportunity for Granite Staters to safely dispose of unwanted guns without putting them back out on the market; giveback gun program is the first New Hampshire event of national effort

CONCORD, NH – On Saturday, June 10th from 10 am to 2 pm, GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress, the NH Council of Churches, Kent Street Coalition, and other members of the NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition will host a “Guns to Gardens” event at the Concord Wesley United Methodist Church in Concord.

Guns to Gardens provides the opportunity for gun owners to bring their unwanted firearms to a location for volunteers to provide the service of disabling those firearms and turning them into garden tools. Under state law, New Hampshire law enforcement officials are prohibited from destroying firearms which come into their possession and must either store the firearms, use them, or sell them back out on the market.  Guns to Gardens provides an opportunity for Granite Staters to remove unwanted firearms from circulation.

“This is a great opportunity for Granite Staters who want to remove unwanted firearms from their homes without putting them back out on the market,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins, director of GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress. “We are thrilled to bring Guns to Gardens to our state to reduce unwanted firearms in our homes and instead transform them into something more useful, and less harmful, to our community.”

“Many Americans are realizing that having a firearm in the home can increase the chances of someone creating harm to themselves or others,” said Nancy Brown, Guns to Gardens Project Coordinator. “I’m excited that Gun Sense NH and our coalition partners are sponsoring the first of what, we hope, will become an annual Guns to Gardens event. This event provides the opportunity for unwanted guns to be permanently taken out of circulation, making our homes and communities safer places to live, work, go to school, and play.”

“We are at a watershed moment in this country when it comes to preventing gun violence,” said Rev. Heidi Carrington Heath, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches. “It should be easier to get rid of unwanted guns, and when laws prevent that, we must do it ourselves. This event is a step toward creating a world with fewer guns, and less gun violence.”

To participate, interested community members should bring unloaded firearms in the trunk of the car or bed of truck and remain in the vehicle at all times. Guns will be removed from vehicles by a volunteer and delivered to the chop saw operator, who will disable the firearm. Scrap metal from the firearms will then be donated and go to a metal artist to be later transformed into garden tools and other works of art. The identity of those relinquishing firearms can remain anonymous.

What:       NH Guns to Gardens Event

When:      Saturday, June 10th, 10 AM – 2 PM

Where:     Wesley United Methodist Church, 79 Clinton St, Concord, NH

How:        Learn more details about the Guns to Garden event and how it works

Members of the media interested in attending should contact info@granitestateprogress.org by Friday at 4:00 PM. The event is not open for general public or media viewing.

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The NH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition has worked together for the last decade to protect and advance common sense public safety laws. Members include gun violence prevention advocates, moms, medical professionals, gun owners, veterans, law enforcement, elected officials, school administrators, educators, students, and faith leaders, and organizations representing various constituencies.  The coalition is convened by GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress.