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N.H. Department of Education looks to expand school choice eligibility next year

Michael Brindley
The department is asking for more money next budget cycle to pay for additional staff and to cover anticipated growth of the Education Freedom Accounts program in its third year.

The New Hampshire Department of Education is asking lawmakers to more than double the funding for the state’s Education Freedom Accounts in the next state budget, anticipating further growth of the program.

The program offers state financial aid to families to pay for non-public school options. It's currently open to families who make 300% or less of the federal poverty level, or $83,250 for a family of four.

In a budget proposal to Gov. Chris Sununu, the department asked for roughly $29.9 million for the program next year as it seeks to broaden the eligibility requirements to include 10 more categories of students, including those who are in foster care or homeless, English language learners, students with disabilities and students attending the lowest-performing schools in the state.

This falls short of some Republican lawmakers’ goal to drop eligibility requirements entirely. Such a move would make New Hampshire’s program one of the most expansive of its kind in the country, along with Arizona and West Virginia.

Now in its second year, New Hampshire’s program enjoys strong support from school choice advocates and top Republicans, including Sununu.

The program sends an average of $5,000 a year to around 3,000 students. Enrollment has doubled since last year, suggesting high interest and far surpassing the program's original budget.

According to the Department of Education, about 70% of students enrolled in the program either had never attended public school or had already left public school prior to the pandemic. Manchester has the largest number of students participating, followed by Nashua, Laconia, Rochester and Concord.

Corrected: December 7, 2022 at 2:13 PM EST
An earlier version of this story cited out-of-date information about the federal poverty level. It has been updated to reflect the latest information.
Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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