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NH Voucher Program Could Cost Much More than Expected

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Friday, September 3, 2021   

CONCORD, N.H. -- Public-school advocates are raising concerns New Hampshire's school-voucher program, which diverts state budget funds from public education for some students to attend private schools, might cost millions more than lawmakers were told to expect.

Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress, explained there is no cap on the number of students who can receive vouchers because the Sununu administration estimated fewer than 30 students would apply.

Hawkins noted unlike voucher programs in other states, New Hampshire's is open not only to students currently in public schools, but those who already attend private school.

"This is a real question about whether the state or local communities will foot the bill, and how much the state is subsidizing students who had already opted out of a public education," asserted. "We're really concerned about the cuts the local communities are going to face."

Hawkins argued the state should release a breakdown of how many eligible students already attend private schools, and have emergency meetings to set limits on how much can be spent. She added they had already expected vouchers to cost nearly $70 million over the next three years, but Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut admitted this week the actual cost might be nearly $7 million over their own estimated budget before the program even starts.

Rep. David Ludeau, D-Merrimack, said he pointed out the lack of fiscal accountability in the voucher program, but it was approved anyway. He contended the vouchers siphon funding from public education, and thinks they put the state at financial risk.

"When you're winging it using taxpayer money, that's not a really good thing," Ludeau remarked. "And it's not a good thing for taxpayers, it's not a good thing for accountability, to make sure the money is used properly."

Ludeau plans to propose legislation to limit the number of school vouchers. He emphasized other measures should be considered to continue working to increase equity in student outcomes.

For instance, Ludeau reported 95% of New Hampshire students overall perform better in school than the average Manchester student, and stressed it is similar in other cities, especially low-income cities that do not generate as much revenue from property taxes.

"We'll be bringing forward legislation this coming term to make sure that every district has access to the financial resources they need to close the opportunity gap," Ludeau concluded.

Disclosure: Granite State Progress Education Fund & Granite State Progress contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Gun Violence Prevention, Health Issues, and Women's Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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