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State says over 1,600 students enrolled in new 'Education Savings Account' program

A photo of a Frank Edleblut speaking to the new Education Savings Account legislative oversight committee. Edleblut is in profile, flanked by two people on either side.
Sarah Gibson
New Hampshire Public Radio
Education Commissioner Frank Edleblut reported new data about the state's Education Savings Account program to a legislative oversight committee.

Approximately 1,600 students are now enrolled in New Hampshire’s new Education Savings Account program, a significantly higher amount than originally projected.

The program, crafted by Republican lawmakers this year, gives families state aid to pay for non-public school options. It is one of the most expansive school choice programs of its kind in the country.

At the inaugural meeting of the program’s legislative oversight committee on Tuesday, New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut presented lawmakers with the latest numbers on the new program, dubbed the “Education Freedom Account.” Here are the figures he shared.

  • 1,635 students are participating. This is dramatically higher than what the state budgeted for. A fiscal analysis by the Department of Education had projected about 28 students in the first year.
  • Participants come from all over New Hampshire. The districts with the largest numbers of students are, in order, Manchester, Nashua, Rochester, Laconia, and Concord.
  • 53% of participants qualify for free and reduced price lunch.
  • 58% of participants are in grades K-5. 
  • 70% of participants either left their public school prior to the pandemic or have never enrolled in public school. 13% of participants left their public school in 2020. 17% of participants were enrolled in public school until this academic year.
  • 44% of participants are also getting state aid through the Education Tax Credit program.
  • 83% of participants are white. This mirrors the overall percentage of white people under age 18 in New Hampshire. The race of the other participants are: 8% Latino, 5% multiple races, 3% black and 1% Asian or Pacific Islander.

Cost of program up for debate

It is not yet clear what kind of effect of this program will have on local school budgets.

The annual cost of the program so far is projected at $8,096,916. It is being paid for with money from the Education Trust Fund, which was established to fund public schools in New Hampshire, and relies on a variety of state taxes. Excluding statewide property taxes, which are raised and retained locally, the $8 million figure represents around one percent of what the state spends annually on public schools through the Education Trust Fund.

In addition to the $8 million, the state will also send two-year “phase-out” grants to public schools that lost students to the Education Freedom Accounts program.

Proponents of the program say these grants are sufficient to help public schools adjust to the loss of students and the state funding that accompanies them. Others point out that fixed costs for school districts - staff, transportation, facilities - remain high even as enrollment drops incrementally.

Families that make under 300% of the federal poverty level ($79,500 for a family of four) qualify for the program. However, they can remain in it even if their income increases above the program eligibility requirements in future years. If they don’t spend all their funds in one year, they can save them for future approved expenses until their child ages out of the program.

Commissioner Frank Edelblut said the state did not have information yet about the private schools and vendors receiving funds through the program. Participating families should receive their first installment of money this month.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 29% of participants had left their public school prior to 2020 or had never enrolled in public school.

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