New Hampshire House votes to expand school choice program


The New Hampshire House has voted to expand a school choice program. Jim Davis/The Boston Globe

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire school choice supporters scored multiple victories Thursday when the House advanced two bills expanding the state’s education freedom account program, and the state Senate blocked an attempt to limit it.

The voucher-like program provides families with the same amount the state pays per pupil to public school districts — about $4,500 — to pay for private school tuition or home school expenses. The number of participants roughly doubled this fall with 3,025 students qualifying for grants totaling nearly $14.7 million this school year, according to state officials.

Currently, families who earn up to 300% of the federal poverty limit are eligible. The Republican-led House voted Thursday to increase that cap to 350%, which is $105,000 for a family of four. Opponents argued that doing so would stray from the program’s original intent to help lower-income families. But supporters said it is a modest change that takes into account cost-of-living increases.

The House also voted to expand eligibility to certain children regardless of family income, including those in foster care, homeless children and children who have been persistently bullied. Opponents called it a drastic change that would balloon the costs of a program in need of stricter accountability and oversight.

“Expanding the program will reduce the amount of funding available to our public schools. The schools we are required to adequately fund by the New Hampshire constitution,” said Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton. “And when the state diverts money away from our public schools, what happens? That’s right. It increases our property taxes.”

New Hampshire school choice supporters said they wanted to help children who have a more difficult time succeeding in school.

“We want to give the children a chance,” said Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro. “We heard that about the impact that this will have on the budget. I’m more concerned about the impact on our kids.”

The Republican-led Senate, meanwhile, voted 14-10 along party lines to kill a bill that would have restricted the grants to those who have spent at least a year in public school or who are entering kindergarten or first grade. A similar bill, however, is still alive in a House committee.

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