Election Outcome Could Bring Big Changes to NH Public Schools
Monday, November 7, 2022
Republicans in New Hampshire have already submitted bills to expand the eligibility requirements for the state's Education Freedom Accounts Program. But critics say diverting more public-education dollars to private, religious and home schools is draining resources for public schools which teach the majority of children.
One bill aims to increase the eligibility cap, allowing families making 500% of the federal poverty level to receive the public funds. Another bill aims to lift the cap entirely.
Sarah Robinson, education justice campaign director for Granite State Progress, charged the real goal of the legislation is not to improve educational choices, but to dismantle the public school system.
"It is a resource that 90% of us choose to use," Robinson pointed out. "So I do believe that many of us care about this institution and want to preserve it and nurture it, and make it even better."
Supporters of school choice say it offers lower-income students learning opportunities they would not otherwise be able to afford. But Robinson pointed to pushback from places like Croydon, where residents organized a nonpartisan movement to reverse dramatic cuts to their town's education budget earlier this year.
New Hampshire's Constitution prohibits using tax dollars for schools "of any religious sect or denomination."
Education Freedom Accounts are similar to other school voucher programs nationwide, created after the U.S. Supreme Court banned school segregation in the 1950s. Vouchers allowed white students to attend selective private schools, leaving more students of color in underfunded public schools.
Robinson noted today, 90% of recipients in New Hampshire are already being home-schooled, or enrolled in private schools.
"It becomes problematic when we start to siphon these agreed upon public dollars to organizations that do not have the same level of transparency as what is required at the public school level," Robinson contended.
Private, religious and home schools do not share the same requirements for teacher licensing or accommodating students with disabilities.
The push for Education Freedom Accounts comes as many public schools face critical shortage of teachers and staff.
Robinson noted the state's "banned concepts" law, which restricts how teachers can talk about racism, sexism and other issues related to inequality, has had a chilling effect on classrooms.
"If you are not trusted with the job you have been trained to do, then for lots of folks, they question why they should remain," Robinson explained.
She said the future of Education Freedom Accounts in New Hampshire could be determined by Tuesday's election, although the majority of families have already elected to keep their children in public school.
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