Column: Why We’re Protecting Choices for NH Parents
By SENS. RUTH WARD and DENISE RICCIARDI
If Apple came out with a new phone that doubled its sales projections in the first year, Apple would not pull the product off the market. Yet because New Hampshire’s new school choice program has been twice as popular as we projected, opponents of school choice want to repeal it and kick hundreds of New Hampshire students out of their chosen schools.
When the Education Freedom Account program was first introduced, we projected that like other programs around the country, parents would be slow to adopt it. As the proposal moved through the legislative process, it became clear that parents were eager for alternatives to the lockdown-and-mask policies in many school districts. This led the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy to forecast that 900 New Hampshire students would opt for Education Freedom Accounts in the first year. We’ve already doubled that projection, with 1,800 New Hampshire students choosing alternative school options through Education Freedom Accounts. Yet this week, our Democratic colleagues voted to close down those options.
Education Freedom Accounts leverage state education dollars to give parents broader choices outside of their local district school. Scholarship organizations under the supervision of the State Board of Education administer the accounts and ensure that all state dollars are being used for qualified education expenses. The program is open to families earning up to 300% of the federal poverty level, roughly $80,000 for a family of four, which directs state aid to families who cannot afford the choices already available to wealthier families. Local school districts are protected with transition grants that give them three years to adjust costs when students choose another school, and no local property tax dollars are used to fund EFAs.
Approximately 1% of New Hampshire students are now getting an education through an Education Freedom Account. Education reporter Katie Brooks writes at EdChoice that this is “a very strong showing for its first year” and “the second most expansive ESA (education savings account) in the nation.”
Despite this success, Democratic opponents of school choice brought forward a bill to repeal the Education Freedom Account program and another to increase paperwork for participating families. These are just two of a dozen proposals to stifle school choice for New Hampshire parents.
As members of the Senate Education Committee, we heard directly from students who are learning under Education Freedom Account scholarships. They told us how they didn’t fit in at their local district schools but are thriving with a customized education. We heard from parents who couldn’t afford the alternatives their children needed but can now make better choices because of Education Freedom Accounts. They begged us to keep this program going, and not to deny their path to the best education possible. This was powerful, first-hand testimony that giving families a little flexibility in how they use our state education dollars can yield great results. That is why every Republican senator voted to protect Education Freedom Accounts. Last year, we ensured that the EFA program would not financially harm our local school districts. To be clear, not a single dollar for this program comes from local property taxpayers.
This is not about undermining public schools; it is about helping students whose families cannot afford an alternative education. An alternative education that, from what we heard from many, many kids who testified in Senate Education, is helping them to thrive.
Choice works. Giving parents more control over their children’s’ education is a powerful way to improve educational outcomes. It also saves money. EFAs average of $5,000 per student compared to nearly $20,000 per student that we spend in the public school system. But the biggest benefit is giving students who are struggling a chance to get a better education. For 1,800 New Hampshire families, that opportunity exists because of Education Freedom Accounts.
This week, the Senate stood with New Hampshire parents by protecting their right to choose a better education for their children. We will protect Education Freedom Accounts and continue to look for ways to expand opportunities for New Hampshire families.
Sen. Ruth Ward (R-Stoddard) represents District 8 and Chairs the Senate Education Committee. Sen. Denise Ricciardi (R-Bedford) represents District 9.
Valley News: Column: Why We’re Protecting Choices for NH Parents