GOP Lawmakers Reject Attempts to Amend Education Freedom Accounts and ‘Divisive Concepts’ Act – New Hampshire Bulletin
The message was clear: New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Account program is here to stay.
In a series of votes in the House last week, the Republican majority rejected efforts to restrict the latest education funding program, which allows parents to use the public school funding allocation from the state for their child and to assign him to homeschooling, private schooling and other costs.
The program sparked partisan disagreements when it was first proposed in 2017. Now, a year after it was passed, Democrats have tried to introduce legislation to narrow its scope, from capping its budget the inclusion of transparency and reporting measures in the law.
“The program is more extensive than any other voucher program in the country,” said Rep. David Luneau, a Democrat from Hopkinton. It was pushed into the state budget bill with little debate and with strong public opposition.
Vote after vote, House Republicans have rejected the proposed additions, arguing that the program is working as intended. The votes embraced growing philosophical divisions over how to fund public schools and how they operate, and they bolstered a push toward “school choice” movements since Republican lawmakers swept back to power in the US. Legislative Assembly in 2020.
“The Education Freedom Account program is under attack because more children entered the program than originally planned, because it is successful,” said Rep. Glenn Cordelli, a Republican from Tuftonboro. “Repealing the program would send the message to families that New Hampshire supports a single educational system and that children must struggle within a system that causes them to experience negative psychological and educational outcomes.”
Here’s what passed — and didn’t pass — among the House’s education bills last week.
Aim for restrictions, repeal
Of the 33 education bills that passed through the House during its three-day session last week, a majority dealt with education freedom accounts. Most of them came from Democrats hoping to change the program.
Created as part of the state budget last year, the Education Freedom Account program allows families with household incomes below 300% of the federal poverty level – $79,500 for a family of four – to ask for accounts. The program allows parents to withdraw their child from a public school and use the state’s annual allocation for that school for expenses outside of public school, including tuition, programs in line and supplies. It also allows eligible families whose children are already enrolled in a private or home school to receive the state grants that would go to their child if they were enrolled in a public school.
Administered by a state-contracted scholarship organization, the Children’s Scholarship Fund, the program has so far attracted more than 1,800 students, according to the New Hampshire Department of Education.
In a bill defeated in the House, House Bill 1669Democrats have proposed requiring the state Department of Education to run the program rather than the children’s scholarship fund, which they say would save the state money State.
In another attempt, House Bill 1355, Democrats have proposed requiring the CSF to refer embezzlement cases to the state attorney general’s office. Republicans said the law could penalize families who made mistakes. The law was struck down.
Republicans rejected a Democratic proposal requiring this organization to compile a list of “education providers” – ranging from private schools to textbook companies to tutoring services – on its website. Republican representatives countered that the organization was already doing this; Democrats have argued that the requirement should be enshrined in law.
And the House rejected an attempt to require education providers to be in business for at least a year before accepting funding from the Education Freedom Account, with Republicans arguing the bill ignored uses freedom accounts that did not involve schools, such as tutors and therapists. .
At one point, House Democrats stopped biting at the edges, advocating for a bill that would repeal the Education Freedom Account program altogether. This bill, House Bill 1683was killed, 189-166.
“The minority believes it is fiscally irresponsible, lacking in accountability, and leaves students and taxpayers vulnerable to fraud and abuse,” Luneau wrote in a report to the House. “Other bills aimed at fixing these flaws have been defeated. The minority believe that the only responsible decision is to repeal the program.
Republicans, for their part, have not introduced any bills to expand the Education Freedom Account program. “There’s a saying that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Cordelli said. “So for us the saying should read, ‘It ain’t broke, so find (the bill) inopportune to legislate.'”
But the House passed a bill that would expand eligibility for a precursor program: the education tax credit program. This program, created in 2013, provides scholarships to students by allowing businesses to donate to the scholarship fund that administers the program and receive a credit on their business taxes.
Currently, the tax credit program, like the new Education Freedom Account program, allows families up to 300% of the federal poverty level to apply for scholarships, which are limited by the number of donations. House Bill 1298 would raise that income cap to 500%, or $132,500 for a family of four. The bill passed, 159-152.
“Divisive Concepts” and “Teacher Loyalty”
While House Republicans blocked efforts to restrict the Education Freedom Account program, they also championed another sweeping change added last year: banning certain race-related concepts. and structural oppression taught in K-12 schools.
In the House last week, lawmakers killed House Bill 1638, which would require families to file complaints against teachers under the new law with the teacher’s superintendent before taking the case to court or to the state Human Rights Commission. And they voted against House Bill 1080an attempt by Democrats to repeal the entire law.
But the House also blocked opportunities to expand the new law. He put aside House Bill 1313, a proposal to extend the law to public colleges and universities. And it killed House Bill 1255a bill that would change a Cold War-era “teacher loyalty” law to prohibit teachers from advocating socialism and other philosophies.
The parties also clashed over COVID-19 regulations in schools. House Republicans passed House Bill 1241, a bill prohibiting public schools from implementing COVID-19 vaccine requirements. They passed another bill, House Bill 1131, prohibiting districts from implementing mask mandates. And they voted against House Bill 1113, an attempt by Democrats to stop the Department of Education and the State Board of Education from limiting remote learning opportunities. Last month, the council passed rules prohibiting schools from entering compulsory remote learning except in bad weather or at the request of a parent.
“Studies have reported learning loss over half a school year,” Cordelli said. “We need to do everything we can to keep our schools open and provide in-person instruction.”
Representative Marjorie Porter, a Democrat from Hillsborough, argued that the new rule impinges on schools’ ability to make safe decisions on an individual basis.
“The minority believe systems and tools are in place and staff have acquired the skills to make remote learning a viable option in an emergency,” Porter said. “…Schools should be able to stay nimble if they need to.”