All children – not only those from wealthy or well-connected families – need access to educational options that fit their individual needs. Children have one chance at their K-12 education, and they deserve the opportunity to have one that works for them.
This Wednesday, November 8th, the House Education Committee will vote on the retained Education Savings Account bill, SB 193. A subcommittee met multiple times over the summer and fall, passing an amended version in a 6 to 3 bipartisan vote.
UPDATE — The House Education Committee will vote on Tuesday, November 14th. We have an extra week to make calls to the committee members, urging them to support this critical bill.
Educational opportunities create better outcomes for children. There are several random assignment studies that show the positive effects of choice programs on test scores and life outcomes including high school graduation, college matriculation, and more. There are also numerous studies that show positive impacts on district-school students, racial integration, the fiscal impact, and parent satisfaction.
Not every child is fortunate enough to live in a high-performing school district. The New Hampshire Department of Education recently released the 2017 statewide assessment results. The state average shows that roughly 59% of NH students scored proficient or above in English and only 48% did so in math. Many individual districts scored lower; the below districts are a sample.[table “15” not found /]
While test scores are one measure of schools and districts, families consider many other factors such as a school’s reputation, course offerings, teacher skills, school discipline, safety, inclusion of values, class size, college acceptances, and more. Schools of choice must take all of these elements into account. True accountability comes from mobility – when families can withdraw from a school when their child’s needs are not satisfied.
Even a high-performing district might not be a good fit for a particular child. Increasingly we hear instances of bullying at schools which officials are unable to deter. In the last couple weeks, videos of fights at Salem High School hit the internet, and a high-profile racial and political based case involved a state representative’s grandson last fall. The New Hampshire Department of Education’s 2014-2015 Bullying Report indicates there were 2,230 incidents of bullying across our elementary, middle, and high schools that year. Their report also states that 306 of these instances interfered with the victim’s learning. Educational options can be the solution bullied children need to escape these intolerable situations.
Proposed Educational Opportunity
New Hampshire can empower more low-income families with educational opportunities by enacting Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) in Senate Bill 193.
Much like health savings accounts, Education Savings Accounts are restricted-use accounts that families can use for approved educational purposes. Six states currently offer some type of ESA and each one has different approved uses, eligibility qualifications, administration processes, accountability mechanisms, and funding sources.
Education Savings Accounts may be used for a variety of educational purposes such as private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring, online learning, special needs services, dual enrollment programs, and certain homeschooling expenses. ESAs allow families to have more opportunities for education that fits their children’s individual needs. The organizations that administer these programs must keep records of expenses and verify that the children satisfy eligibility requirements. Reports are submitted to state agencies annually and have third-party review processes.
One of the key questions about ESAs is its constitutionality and two programs in states with Blaine Amendments have succeeded against legal challenges. The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy published a review indicating the proposed ESA is consistent with the US and NH constitutions. Additionally, in a recent Union Leader editorial, Tim Keller with the Institute for Justice said, “ESAs satisfy the federal and state constitutions’ two defining characteristics of a constitutional educational choice program: religious neutrality and parental choice.”
Further, if ESAs will help more children – not just the wealthy or well-connected — access education that fits their needs, then aren’t the programs consistent with our democratic values for self-determination and opportunities for all?
Public school officials worry that expanding educational options will open floodgates, but that has not proven out. In other states with ESAs, less than 2% of eligible students participate. In New Hampshire, less than 1% of eligible children participate in our existing private tax-credit scholarship program.
Educational options also have a positive impact on school districts financially. In the proposed ESA, the equivalent of the state adequacy funding, roughly $3600, and any qualifying differentiated aid (ex Free and Reduced Lunch, Special Education, English Language Learner) would follow a child out of the public-school system to the family’s choice of approved educational uses. All local property tax money stays with the district for children they are no longer educating. The impact is the same as a family moving out of district or a child withdrawing from the local school for another option.
In keeping with current statutes, if a family chooses to withdraw from the public-school system, the district is no longer responsible for any special education services or transportation. The ESA can be used for those purposes, among other choices directed by the family.
As a state we have an obligation to fund each child’s education, but it need not be limited to one provider of that education.
The House Education Committee will vote on SB 193 on Wednesday, November 8th. Encourage them to empower low-income families to access the best educational opportunities for their children by supporting Education Savings Accounts. They are a win-win for students, schools, and our state.
UPDATE — The House Education Committee will vote on Tuesday, November 14th. We have an extra week to make calls to the committee members, urging them to support this critical bill.[table “5” not found /]