A total of 1,635 students across New Hampshire, including dozens in the Monadnock Region, are participating in a new program allowing state money to be used to pay for their private education, a program that state Sen. Jay Kahn would like to end.
The Keene Democrat is proposing legislation that would repeal the so-called Education Freedom Account program, which has been hailed by the GOP and generally opposed by public school advocates and Democrats. Interest in the program has far outstripped N.H. Department of Education projections.
“I’m opposed to public funding of private and religious schools,” the Keene Democrat said in a recent interview. “I believe that our mandates are to provide an opportunity for an adequate education in our public schools.”
Kahn said the voucher-like program, which began this year, puts the state in the position of supporting more than 100 participating private education providers. That list includes several local schools such as Trinity Christian School and Saint Joseph Regional School in Keene, as well as Dublin Christian Academy, according to the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which has a contract with the state to administer the program.
“It dilutes the state’s ability to serve all students and do so in a manner that has a great deal of transparency and accountability,” said Kahn, whose Senate District 10 covers Alstead, Chesterfield, Gilsum, Harrisville, Hinsdale, Keene, Marlborough, Nelson, Roxbury, Sullivan, Surry, Swanzey, Walpole, Westmoreland and Winchester.
In a news release last month, N.H. Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut praised the program, which serves 36 students in Keene, 26 in Jaffrey and 26 in Rindge, the Monadnock Region municipalities with the highest participation in the program.
“This is a true milestone for New Hampshire, especially since the pandemic created a clear demand for new and expansive educational options,” he said. “Education Freedom Accounts provide families with the flexibility to thrive while using customized learning, tutoring services, career schools, technical schools, homeschooling, and non-public and private schools to enhance and personalize academic experiences.”
The program is available to families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $79,500 for a family of four. It provides the basic state aid available to students, which is about $4,600.
While Kahn’s bill would do away with the program, other, GOP-backed, measures would expand it by increasing income eligibility levels or allowing local education money to be added to the program’s funding.
Other bills, backed by Democrats, seek to improve oversight of the program by requiring audits or closer scrutiny of educational providers. Another bill sponsored by Kahn would require families to meet income requirements yearly, instead of just once upon entry to the program as is the case now.
The N.H. Legislature will begin to take up bills after its session begins next month.