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School Choice Bill Moves Forward in N.H. Senate

Dan Tuohy for NHPR

A bill to expand school choice in New Hampshire is moving forward in the New Hampshire State Senate.

SB 130 establishes a so-called "Education Savings Account Program," allowing families to use taxpayer dollars to pay for homeschool, private school, or other private educational programs. Families who participate would get an estimated average of $4,500 dollars a year.

A version of the bill in the New Hamsphire House was retained earlier this session, after concerns about potential costs to the state and eligibility requirements. The Senate version has broad support among Republicans, but it faced fierce opposition during public testimony in the last month, with 3,200 people registering their opposition, out of 3,700 who registered an opinion. 

The final version of the bill offers Education Savings Accounts to any student whose family makes under 300 percent of the federal poverty level (or $77,000 for a family of four) and is not enrolled in a public school.  

Republican Sen. Bob Guida argued on Thursday that the bill will help low- and middle-income families whose local public schools are not working for them.

“No academic knows a child better than a parent,” he said. “And this bill gives our parents a choice to make the decision as to where and how they want their child educated.”

The bill establishes an oversight committee that would submit an annual report, but Democrats allege the program would still be susceptible to misuse and fraud.

“There's just no accountability to property tax payers whose money is being used for private, religious and home school,” said Sen. Tom Sherman.

The bill passed on party lines with several amendments, including one from Democratic Sen. Davd Watters requiring the Education Savings Account program to comply with all state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Questions about the bill’s financial implications remain unresolved. The state Department of Education, other state officials, and private non-profits have all come up with different analysis on whether the program will cost or save taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

Senators voted to lay the bill on the table after it passed. It is expected to be part of the final state budget negotiations later this year.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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