Education Freedom Account handouts: Thousands of dollars for filling out a form

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O P I N I O N

THE SOAPBOX

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Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.


The NH House passed HB 430. It requires students to attend public school for at least a year before transferring to an “Education Freedom Account” program. Currently, the state offers parents $3,700+ for the simple act of completing an EFA registration form. Not surprisingly, thousands of private-school parents registered. Then, these parents could submit the tuition bills that they previously paid themselves to a scholarship organization. The scholarship organization pays the bills with taxpayer money. The state is not permitted oversight on how the money is used.

Does the EFA program improve students’ learning? In most cases, not a whit. Right now, most EFA students attend exactly the same religious schools they did when their parents were paying the full bill. If HB 430 passes the remaining hurdles in House Finance, Senate and Senate Finance, and the governor signs it, this practice would stop. HB430 would save the state $10 million or more. A whopping 77% of this year’s $14 million in EFA expenses went to children staying at the same school.

HB 430 does not solve all the myriad problems with EFAs, but it would certainly reduce their impact. Even students who switched schools will show no academic improvement. The state is not allowed to assess their progress to see whether EFAs work! NH law bars the state from overseeing EFA education providers’ content. One online school in Ohio teaches how to be “good Nazis.” The state has no control over who is allowed to provide education to EFA students. EFA schools may refuse students by race, gender, disability, or other reason. The state may not audit the EFA program for misspending or embezzlement.

Why did the legislature and governor put EFA handouts, with no transparency, into law? The so-called “Americans for Prosperity” lobbying group mailed tens of thousands of pro-EFA postcards around the state. They even knocked door-to-door to promote the program.

Nevertheless, at the original EFA hearing, over 3,000 voters signed in opposed to vouchers. Only 600 were in favor. Republicans tabled the bill and inserted it into the budget trailer. Then they and the governor stated they had to support the budget. Regardless how unpopular vouchers are.

Governor Sununu’s new budget includes larger EFA handouts for more voters. The move is popular with national evangelical voters he will need for his Presidential run. His budget allocates $50 million in state spending for the 2% who are EFA students. For the 89% of students relying on public education, the governor allocates $100 million.

Let’s urge our legislators to at least support HB 430 to require students to attend public school a minimum of one year before switching to EFAs. After all, the stated purpose of EFAs was to allow choice to students who were not successful in public schools.


Beg to differ? Agree to disagree? Thoughtful prose on topics of general interest are welcome. Send submissions to publisher@manchesterinklink.com, subject line: The Soapbox.


 

About this Author

Jeanne Dietsch

Jeanne Dietsch is a former NH Senator. She founded MobileRobots Inc, now Omron, in Amherst. She served on the Peterborough Economic Development Council for a decade. She now runs non-profit Granite State Matters.