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NHGOP Gov Candidates Back Universal School Choice

The Republicans hoping to replace Gov. Chris Sununu in the corner office next year have all embraced universal school choice, a deep contrast with their Democratic rivals.

On WFEA Morning Update with Drew Cline Monday, former U.S. Sen. and Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Ayotte said that, as governor, she would support universal school choice in New Hampshire, building upon the New Hampshire GOP’s successes with the popular Education Freedom Account (EFA) program.

“I think the work that’s been done to allow parents and children to go to school where they would like to – I think we can expand that. I support universal education freedom,” Ayotte said. “And the reason for that is I believe that each child learns differently, and each child is better suited at different schools, whether it’s a public school – and I’m a product of public schools – or whether it’s a charter school or homeschooling.”

The former senator continued, “And I think we have an opportunity in education to go even further and to build on what Gov. Sununu has done…so that is an area I look forward to leaning into.”

She is hardly alone.

The other Republican in the race, former state Sen. Chuck Morse, also supports universal school choice. Morse helped pass the EFA program in 2021 as Senate president.

“Chuck Morse has been a leader for parental rights and has actually passed into law EFA in New Hampshire, and the goal would be for all parents to have the right to have the school that best fits their children’s needs,” Morse campaign advisor Dave Carney told NHJournal. “Your zip code shouldn’t determine your school but rather by the best opportunity for each child in the state. It’s great to see folks joining the effort now that the results in educational opportunity have been demonstrated and parental rights have gained currency.”

State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who many expect will enter the GOP gubernatorial primary, has also come out in favor of universal education freedom.

“I support universal choice in education because I support children,” Edelblut told NHJournal. “One-size-fits-all does not work for children and, quite frankly, does not work for educators or families. We must move beyond the status quo and allow our education entrepreneurs – ‘edupreneurs’ – the flexibility to unleash learning for all students.”

The two Democrats seeking the office, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, both declined to comment on Ayotte’s position or their own regarding education freedom. However, they have both made it clear they oppose even the modest choice available in the income-based EFA program.

Advocates for the “funding follows the student” model believe they are making a grave political mistake.

“A new July 2023 poll from Emerson College found that Republicans are beating Democrats on education by three points in battleground states,” said Corey DeAngelis, executive director of the Education Freedom Institute. “That’s not a huge advantage at the moment, but it does represent a seismic shift from the decades-long double-digit advantage Democrats held with voters on education. It’s not a coincidence that it happened when Republicans started leaning in hard on education freedom, and when Democrats started attacking parental rights.

“Kids don’t belong to the government. If the Democrat politicians are smart, they drop their anti-parent positions once and for all. If they don’t, the GOP will win even more on education,” DeAngelis said.

Ayotte reiterated her school choice stance in her first campaign speech during her kickoff event Monday night. “Parents know what is best for their children, and we want to give every child in this state the opportunity to go to the school or the educational setting that is best for them.”

These GOP endorsements come after New Hampshire Republicans, with the help of Sununu, expanded the EFA program during the most recent legislative session. Against unified Democratic opposition, Republicans increased eligibility from households making no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level to those with income at or below 350 percent of the federal poverty level.

As the law currently stands, not every family can access EFA funds. For example, a single parent with one child making more than $69,020, or a family of four making more than $105,000, are ineligible for the program.

Making school choice universal in New Hampshire would mean eliminating this income cap on the EFA program altogether, giving every family in the state access to their per-pupil share of the state’s education spending to pay for alternatives like private or homeschool, or education-related expenses such as supplies and tutoring services.

Given that the recent increase in EFA eligibility just barely passed the state legislature – by a 187-184 vote in the House and a 14-10 vote in the Senate – universal school choice promises to be a hotly contested issue in the state going forward.

But school choice has become increasingly popular among voters. According to national polling from RealClear Opinion Research in June 2023, 71 percent of registered voters supported the idea of school choice, compared to just 13 percent opposed. This was true across party lines, as well, with 80 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Independents, and 66 percent of Democrats in support of the concept.

Teachers unions, both in New Hampshire and nationwide, have made it clear they will not accept any deviation from the “assigned-government-school” system. Deb Howes, president of AFT (American Federation of Teachers)-New Hampshire, has filed a lawsuit in Merrimack County Superior Court attempting to block the state from using any more of the Trust Fund money to fund the EFA program.

And although she declined to comment to NHJournal, Executive Councilor Warmington has been an outspoken critic of the EFA program in the past, calling it “a well-coordinated effort…poised to dramatically privatize education in our state,” a “dangerous effort,” and “nothing less than an evisceration of public schools.”

In fact, the EFA program increases the per-pupil funding available to local schools when a student enters the program. While the student’s state funding — usually around $5,000 or so — goes to the school chosen by the family, the remaining local funding — typically around $15,000 — remains behind to be used to educate a smaller student body.

“New Hampshire gubernatorial candidates would be wise to embrace universal school choice,” DeAngelis said. “A supermajority of New Hampshire residents support education savings accounts, the gold standard of education freedom. School choice is the only way to truly secure parental rights in education, and it is now a GOP litmus-test issue.

“Democrats who turn their backs on families by siding with the power-hungry teachers unions do so at their own political peril.”

Haley Says NH Fentanyl Crisis Made in China, And U.S. Must Respond

During a roundtable on rising opioid addiction and death rates in Manchester Wednesday, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley took a hardline stance against China regarding fentanyl in the United States.

“We have to kick this where it starts. And that means you go to China and say, ‘We will end all normal trade relations with you until you stop killing Americans.’ We have to be that firm, we have to be that tough,” said Haley, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

And she told WMUR-TV she would also include direct military action against the cartels in Mexico.

“You do that by having your special operations go and eliminate those cartels,” Haley said. “We have to get our military on the ground and treat those cartels like the terrorists that they are.”

Talking with faith-based and community leaders, including former state Rep. Victoria Sullivan and former Speaker Pro Tempore of the state House Kimberly Rice, Haley asked about the attendees’ efforts to combat addiction in New Hampshire while also discussing her own personal experiences with the issue.

“My niece, when she was 16, had to have back surgery. She had been given some sort of heavy medication,” Haley recalled. “We spent the next 12 to 13 years, longer than that, watching her go from addiction to worse addiction to worse addiction to worse addiction. And we literally waited any day to get that call that she had died. By the grace of God, she is now clean.”

And, Haley added, many Granite Staters have had similar experiences.

“I look at New Hampshire; it’s really been ground zero for addictions for a long time.”

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks to Nathaniel Caesar, who is in recovery at a nonprofit in Manchester, N.H.

The number of opioid overdose deaths peaked in the state in 2017 (at 490) before declining slightly in the following two years. But now the bad news is inching back up, hitting 486 drug overdose deaths in 2022, according to the state’s chief medical examiner’s office. That was an 11 percent jump from 2021, while the nation as a whole experienced a 0.5 percent increase.

Fentanyl was involved in more than 80 percent of those deaths last year.

Manchester and Nashua are bearing the brunt of the crisis. The latter saw a 16 percent spike in opioid-related deaths in May 2023, while Manchester hovered around last year’s record-breaking numbers, according to American Medical Response (AMR).

A synthetic opioid that can be 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, fentanyl is the driving force behind the state’s opioid epidemic. And Haley didn’t mince words when condemning China for supplying the fentanyl that’s been pouring into the United States. “I will make sure as president, I will make sure as a candidate, everybody needs to know how dangerous China is.”

While China placed fentanyl under a controlled regulatory regime in 2019, it has done little to hinder the flow of the deadly narcotic. The country is still the primary source of fentanyl in the United States.

“Y’all are trying to fix what’s on the ground, we gotta fix it from where it’s coming from in the first place,” Haley noted.

According to the Brookings Institute, “Instead of finished fentanyl being shipped directly to the United States, most smuggling now occurs via Mexico. Mexican criminal groups source fentanyl, fentanyl precursors, and increasingly pre-precursors from China, and then traffic finished fentanyl from Mexico to the United States.”

Chinese actors, especially those in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, play an important role in supporting Mexican distributors by both laundering money and violating regulations to source their operations.

“Don’t think for a second China doesn’t know what they’re doing when they send it over,” Haley told the roundtable. “That’s the issue. And what we saw was [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken went there and basically said, ‘We’re going to start having talks about fentanyl.’ There’s nothing to talk about. Let’s be clear, we know who the culprit is. We know exactly what they’re doing, we know exactly why they’re doing it, we just need to act on that.”

Haley’s comments come about a month after the U.S. Justice Department arrested eight executives and employees and charged four China-based chemical manufacturing companies “with crimes related to fentanyl production, distribution, and sales resulting from precursor chemicals” – the first such charges against China-based companies and nationals for fentanyl-related crimes.

Meanwhile, the problem has been intensifying at the U.S.-Mexico border. So far this year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seized 21,846 pounds of fentanyl at the border – nearly 8,000 pounds more than it seized all of last year (14,104 pounds).

“We had enough fentanyl cross the border last year that would kill every single American,” Haley said. “The number one cause of death of adults 18 to 49: fentanyl.”

Ironically, Haley made her comments the same day Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. He told the committee the Biden policy at the border “is working,” a claim most Americans reject. A poll released in June found just 33 percent of Americans approve of the job President Joe Biden is doing controlling the borders, his lowest number ever.

Fentanyl is extremely lethal, even in small doses. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, just one kilogram is potent enough to kill 500,000 people. But while Haley is focused on dealing with China and the supply side of the issue on a national level, she also stressed the importance of local control in combating addiction.

“I think that a lot of what needs to happen at the national level is, rather than D.C. holding all this money and putting all these programs out, they need to pass it down to the states and reduce the size of government, and let the states handle it.”

Haley continued, “Your addiction issues in New Hampshire are different than the addiction issues in South Carolina, which are different than every other state. You know best how to handle it. Places like this are exactly the way you do it.”

Highlighting the interconnectedness between addiction at home and confronting China abroad, Haley added, “Addiction needs to be front of mind for every American….And how we’re going to deal with China needs to be top of mind.”

UNH Poll Wrap: Trump on Top, Scott Trends Up, RFK Jr. Way Down

The University of New Hampshire Survey Center released a series of results from this month’s Granite State Poll, a States of Opinion Project.

In the head-to-head Republican primary, former President Donald Trump holds a solid lead over his competitors, grabbing 37 percent support from likely Republican primary voters – a five-point drop from his support in April. Forty-three percent say they would be enthusiastic if he is the nominee again.

For Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, UNH’s poll is one of the best he has seen in a while, coming in at 23 percent support (a one-point increase since April).

But the real winner is Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). UNH has Scott at eight percent support, a third-place finish and a six-point bump from April – the best he has performed in a New Hampshire poll so far. The promising results came while Scott was in the Granite State for a packed town hall in Salem.

Perhaps more significantly, Scott is the most popular Republican in the presidential field. His net favorability (+46 percent) is significantly greater than DeSantis’s (+32 percent) and Trump’s (+23 percent).

“Tim Scott has the money, and he’s got a message that’s different from the other candidates in that it’s very positive, he hasn’t attacked Trump, and that’s showing up in his favorability ratings,” Andy Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, told Drew Cline on the WFEA Morning Update.

“Liking the personality of the person who’s got an upbeat view of the world, I think that’s the biggest asset that Scott has going for him now. And it’s showing up in some of the polls here and nationwide, and his fundraising demonstrates that.”

UNH Professor of Political Science Dante Scala noted Scott’s numbers are likely the result of his advertising prowess. “He and his Super PAC have been active in New Hampshire,” Scala told NHJournal. “It just shows how much paid advertising can drive public opinion in the early stages.”

Noting that none of the other candidates have attacked Scott yet, Scala said, “All the positive advertising is like steroids. It inflates your numbers…but when push comes to shove, will those numbers hold up when you’re under pressure?”

UNH’s poll spells trouble for former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Vice President Mike Pence. Despite spending more time in the state than most, if not all, other candidates so far, Haley’s five percent puts her behind candidates like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, North Dakota’s Gov. Doug Burgum, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

“It shows the limits of retail politicking, even in New Hampshire,” Scala said, noting that he has yet to see much Haley advertising on television or in the mail.

And behind Haley at just one percent is Pence. Worse, the former vice president is the second-most unpopular candidate (net favorability of -33 percent). “If you look at the people who have the lowest favorability ratings, it’s Chris Christie and Mike Pence,” Smith observed. “Those are the two Republicans that have been most critical of Trump.”

The good news for all the Republican candidates, however, is that there’s room to grow. Only 36 percent of likely Republican primary voters have decided who they’re voting for, while 62 percent are either leaning toward a candidate or trying to decide.

On the Democratic side, President Biden has 70 percent support among likely Democratic primary voters, though only 36 percent said they would be enthusiastic if he is the nominee.

“Democratic voters here are definitely behind Biden…but they’re not really enthusiastic about their support for Biden,” Smith said, signaling there may be room on the Democratic side for another candidate to jump into the race. “He’s the head of the party, he’s the incumbent president, they’re backing him, but that means that many Democrats would kind of want somebody else.”

Scala, on the other hand, didn’t jump to this conclusion. “An unenthusiastic vote counts just as much as an enthusiastic vote.”

Meanwhile, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose potential for success hinges almost entirely on how he performs in New Hampshire, is only garnering 10 percent support from primary voters. Worse still, he’s widely unpopular among Granite State Democrats; his net favorability is -60 percent.

While the most common word used to describe Biden is “old,” RFK Jr. is most often described by Democrats as “crazy,” “dangerous,” and “insane.”

Interestingly, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of New Hampshire Democrats would write in Biden’s name if he doesn’t show up on the primary ballot.

That is the Biden campaign’s current course since the DNC tried stripping New Hampshire of its First-in-the-Nation slot, an act many thought would hurt Biden with Granite State Democrats. But, Scala observed, “There’s not much evidence Biden is being punished…for what he’s doing to the First-in-the-Nation primary.”

The Granite State Poll was conducted from July 13 to July 17, with an overall margin of error of +/- 2.2 percent and a 25 percent response rate. There were 898 likely Republican primary voters (margin of error of +/- 3.3 percent) and 743 likely Democratic primary voters (margin of error of +/- 3.6 percent) included in the sample.

Sununu Won’t Seek Record Fifth Term, Turns ’24 Gov Race Into Toss-Up

The first Republican to win the governor’s office since 2002– and the only GOP governor in state history to serve eight years — says his fourth term will be his last.

“After discussions with Valerie and the kids and much consideration, I have decided not to run for another term as governor in 2024,” Chris Sununu told supporters in an email Wednesday. “This was no easy decision as I truly love serving as governor.”

“It is with great pride that New Hampshire is better off today than we were seven years ago,” Sununu added.

The announcement concluded months of speculation over whether Sununu would seek a record fifth term or return to the private sector.

Speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s Executive Council meeting (held in Dover in part to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the city’s founding), Sununu didn’t preview his upcoming plans. When asked what is next for him, Sununu said, “There is no ‘next.’ What I’m going to do next is go back to work. I’m still governor for 18 months.”

Being governor “is not a public career; it’s public service,” Sununu said. With the economic success and government reforms over the past four terms, “it just seems like a perfect time to pass the reins off to someone else.”

Sununu has consistently enjoyed high approval ratings throughout his time in the corner office. Last month, a Wall Street 24/7 analysis listed Sununu as the third most popular governor in the country.

He touted some of his accomplishments via Twitter:



Other notable legislative actions include universal license recognition, record public education funding, voluntary paid family medical leave, and repealing the Interest and Dividends Tax.

Sununu’s popularity soared during his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. His approval numbers were never higher than during that time.

With Sununu bowing out, the Cook Political Report changed its rating of the 2024 gubernatorial election from “Solid Republican” to “Toss Up.” In a podcast interview with NHJournal, Cook Political Report’s Jessica Taylor said Sununu’s departure makes New Hampshire the Democrats’ best shot to pick up a governorship in 2024.

And two Granite State Democrats are already in the race. Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington are headed for a competitive primary. Each has raised more than $300,000.

On the GOP side, former state Senate President and 2022 U.S. Senate candidate Chuck Morse wasted no time jumping into the race, sending an “I’m in!” message within minutes of Sununu’s announcement.

“Now that he’s decided not to run for re-election, I’m announcing that I am running for governor to build on those successes,” Morse tweeted.

“Year in and year out, New Hampshire ranks among the best states to live in. It’s not an accident, and it’s not luck either. It’s because we elect conservative[s] who get results. It’s what I did as Senate president, and it’s what I’ll do as governor. I want to put my experience and leadership to work for the people of New Hampshire to keep moving forward on a path of growth and prosperity for all,” Morse said.

Two other likely GOP candidates, former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut, took different tacks.

“This is Gov. Sununu’s day,” Edelblut told NHJournal. “He’s been a great governor for eight years. I will have an announcement in the near future, but this is his day.”

Ayotte released a similar statement.

“I am grateful to Gov. Sununu for his hard work over the past seven years to improve our quality of life and for always fighting for all Granite Staters. The battle to ensure that New Hampshire keeps our ‘Live Free or Die’ spirit must continue. Like many Granite Staters, I fear that we are one election away from turning into Massachusetts,” Ayotte said, adding that she, too, expected to make an announcement soon.

Ayotte’s warning was particularly prescient, as not long after Sununu’s announcement Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey endorsed Joyce Craig for governor of New Hampshire. Ayotte quickly tweeted a response: “Take it from Maura Healey, Joyce Craig would turn New Hampshire into Massachusetts.”

If all three enter the race, New Hampshire Republicans will have their first competitive gubernatorial primary since 2016. And whoever the nominee is can expect a general election more closely resembling Sununu’s first – a narrow 2.2-point victory – as opposed to Sununu’s last three contests – 7, 31.8, and 15.5-point victories.

Asked if he plans to endorse a candidate in the gubernatorial primary, Sununu responded, “Yeah, maybe. I guess we’ll see who’s running. As folks know, I’m never afraid to get behind candidates I believe strongly in, like any other citizen in the state. If there’s a great candidate out there, I’m more than happy to get behind them.”

Sununu wasn’t worried that his decision puts the corner office in jeopardy for Republicans. “I’d like to think our administration has really put a stake in the ground of how to do it, how to get it done,” Sununu said. “And I think it gives a huge opportunity for another Republican to win the seat.”

Entrepreneurs Are Creating New Educational Options in New Hampshire

School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in education entrepreneurship across the U. S. Large declines in student performance (see here and here) both during and following the pandemic, along with increasingly bitter disputes over school content and policies, are sending even more parents in search of alternatives. 

In New Hampshire, public school enrollment has fallen by more than 10,000 students since 2019. That was on top of a decline of 29,946 students from 2001-2019. During that same 2001-2019 period, spending on public district schools rose by $1.5 billion, or $937 million, when adjusted for inflation. 

As public school leaders in New Hampshire and elsewhere work on improving outcomes and making educational systems more responsive to families, some parents continue to seek short-term or long-term alternatives. 

Whether to make up for learning losses or to find a better fit for their children, many families are searching for something different than traditional schooling. 

In New Hampshire, as around the country, education entrepreneurs are meeting this demand in a growing educational marketplace by creating nontraditional learning environments for students. 

Education entrepreneurship embraces a bottom-up, decentralized approach to schooling. The Live Free or Die state is home to a wide and growing range of educational alternatives offered by scrappy startups, frustrated parents, former public school teachers, and even national businesses.

In addition to private schools, which the state must approve, a mix of new, private-sector alternatives is popping up in New Hampshire. They fall into the following broad categories: Microschools, learning pods, homeschool co-ops/learning centers, and hybrid homeschools.

Here is how each of these alternatives differs from the others and from traditional educational offerings.


A microschool is the “catch-all” term for learning alternatives offered on a small scale and in a more traditional school style. It describes a full-time or part-time learning environment characterized by small classrooms that enable an individualized approach to education.

Think of a modern version of a one-room schoolhouse emphasizing student-led and project-based learning.

Often seen as a middle ground between homeschooling and traditional schooling, microschools typically include more than two participating families who are not homeschooling. They usually hold 10 to 50 students, but they can be larger or smaller. Hired instructors typically lead them and are often set in commercial spaces or community centers.

A microschool would be subject to state approval and regulation if organized as a small private school. In 2021, in response to pandemic-created demand, the state Education Department published a primer on how to start a non-public school, which laid out the laws and regulations that govern non-public schools in the state. 

Not all educational alternatives, though, are organized as schools. 

Learning pods

Learning pods usually consist of a smaller group of students (typically 10 or fewer) gathering together with some form of adult oversight to learn and socialize. 

Pods are often created by families in a neighborhood or location that draws families from throughout a community. They are inherently flexible for the students and parents, gathering in convenient locations – often a participating family’s home – on certain days of the week for agreed-upon amounts of time. Parents can lead them or paid educators. 

Like microschools, they often include more than two participating families who are not homeschooling, but they are less closely aligned with a traditional classroom environment than microschools. 

A learning pod might be classified and regulated as a private “school,” depending on how it is organized and how instruction is offered, though these new entities do not easily fit the standard description of a school. Some learning pods involve homeschooled or pre-school-age children.

Homeschool co-ops/learning centers

Homeschool co-ops and learning centers represent a more decentralized type of educational offering. They are typically formed by groups of families meeting together to achieve common educational goals, but they aren’t necessarily organized as “schools.” 

Typically consisting of more than two participating families who have chosen to homeschool, homeschool co-ops and learning centers often function as homeschool resource centers. They allow homeschooled students to meet regularly and participate in classes and activities led by either the parents themselves, in the case of co-ops, or instructors and activity leaders that the group hires, in the case of learning centers.

Homeschool co-ops and learning centers can be set in various environments, such as participating families’ homes, commercial or community centers, or even outdoors. These include tutoring centers, such as Mathnasium and Sylvan learning centers, and unschools, which allow for almost complete self-directed learning by the students.

Hybrid homeschools

Hybrid homeschools share many of the same qualities as homeschool co-ops and learning centers. Like the latter, they usually have paid instructors.

The main differences are that there is often a curriculum in place, many are faith-based, and they usually have a yearly program with about two days a week in “class” and the rest of the week spent at home.


These are the primary options education entrepreneurs have been offering as alternatives to traditional schooling since the COVID-19 pandemic. They share many of the same features, and sometimes their offerings overlap. People often use the terms “learning pods” and “microschools” interchangeably, for example, since they can be very similar in style and structure, though they aren’t always. 

Most education providers are self-identified, as rigid legal definitions don’t exist to classify them. Even within one “category,” the educational options in the marketplace vary considerably in their teaching philosophies, structures, and schedules.

Though these are the general categories of new educational offerings spreading quickly in the marketplace right now, it would be a mistake to assume that others won’t come along. Parents and entrepreneurs are constantly searching for new ways to meet children’s needs. There’s no reason to think they won’t invent even more creative options.

NH’s Population 2nd Oldest in U.S., and That’s a Problem

Does the Granite State have a “Golden Girls” problem? Is New Hampshire America’s “Matlock” state?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Vintage 2022 Population Estimates, New Hampshire now has the second-oldest median population in America (44.3 years). Maine took the top spot on the senior citizen circuit with a median age of 44.8 years. That’s nearly six years older than the U.S. median age of 38.9 years.

According to the Census data, almost every state saw an increase in its median age. None saw a decline. Seventeen states had a median age over 40 in 2022.

The 2020 Census found that while the Granite State’s population grew 4.6 percent over the last decade, there was a 10.6 percent decrease in its under-18 population. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that in 2021 New Hampshire had the fourth-lowest 0 to 18 age population (19.8 percent) and the third-lowest 19 to 25 population (7.6 percent) in the country.

It doesn’t help that New Hampshire also has one of the lowest birth rates in the country, coupled with a 65-and-older age group that makes up 20.2 percent of its total population (compared to 16.8 percent nationally).

Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), identified the crux of the problem. “It means that a huge number of people who are born and raised in New Hampshire are leaving as young people, and other adults, typically at an older phase of life, are moving in,” Moore told NHJournal. “That explains why our aging numbers appear as high as they do; we’re trading 18 and 22-year-olds for people aged 35 to 45.”

One reason for the exodus of younger workers is that many of the state’s biggest problems hit 18 to 25-year-olds the hardest.

For example, according to Education Data Initiative, New Hampshire has the second-highest average yearly in-state college tuition and fees in the nation ($16,749). The total cost for in-state students at a public four-year college or university in New Hampshire is an average of $29,222, which is 36.95 percent higher than the national average.

Once New Hampshire students graduate and look to settle, they then face a housing crisis. In May 2023, the New Hampshire Association of Realtors found housing affordability in the state hit its lowest point ever, while median prices for single-family homes reached a record high of $465,000.

Meanwhile, rent in New Hampshire has increased by 35 percent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fourth-highest increase seen across the country, according to Apartment List and U.S. News & World Report. Those costs disproportionately hurt young individuals and families just starting out – all while the state continues to struggle to build affordable housing to meet demand.

Drew Cline, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, had one word for what needs to change: “Zoning.” Local zoning regulations make building residential housing in the state extremely difficult.

So, if young families can’t find affordable housing, they will move elsewhere. AFP’s Moore echoed the need to address affordable housing to keep young people in the Granite State. “First and foremost, that requires two things – good jobs for people early in their careers and housing that gives them a chance to buy a home at an affordable price,” Moore said. “We’ve been taking steps to strengthen our economy, and now we need to free up property rights so that we can build more homes.”

Energy costs are also expensive. Analysis by WalletHub found Granite Staters pay the ninth-highest out-of-pocket energy expenses in the nation.

Assuming they can find and purchase a home and pay for utilities, young families are then burdened by high property taxes. New Hampshire consistently has the third or fourth-highest property taxes in the country. With an effective property tax rate of around 2 percent, the median total paid out by property owners annually is just north of $6,000.

Michael Skelton, president and CEO of the Business & Industry Association, highlighted the policy work necessary to combat this trend. “BIA successfully supported increased investments in workforce housing development and the university and community college systems to help retain the state’s younger residents and attract other young professionals,” Skelton told NHJournal. “BIA also advocated for additional funding to make child care more affordable and accessible for parents, helping them join and stay in the workforce.”

New Hampshire’s business and economic experts above agree the aging trend isn’t irreversible. By making progress on any of these fronts, the state can start chipping away at the issue and working toward retaining and attracting younger populations to the Granite State.

DeSantis Touts Record, Takes Jabs at Trump in Hollis Town Hall

Touting his list of accomplishments in Florida and determined to rid the Republican Party of its “culture of losing,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis brought his campaign to a packed town hall in Hollis, N.H., Tuesday morning.

“Are you ready to help me send Joe Biden back to his basement in Delaware?” the candidate asked to loud applause.

To do that, DeSantis will first have to get past frontrunner Donald Trump, who was greeted Tuesday morning with new poll numbers from St. Anselm College showing his support at 47 percent, up five points from March.

Meanwhile, DeSantis’s support has fallen 10 points to 19 percent. Coming in third, fourth, and fifth were former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 6 percent, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley at 5 percent, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) at 4 percent.

DeSantis didn’t talk polls, instead putting his emphasis on issues. Discussing foreign policy, he reminded the crowd he is the only military veteran in the field of 12 announced GOP candidates.

DeSantis also made education policy a central part of his opening speech. “Parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children,” DeSantis told the crowd. “You start coming for our kids, we’ve got problems! Kids should just be able to be kids without somebody trying to shove an agenda down their throat.”

On the issue of reforming Washington politics, DeSantis listed three constitutional amendments he would support: a balanced budget, a line-item veto for the president, and term limits for members of Congress.

While the air was thick with anticipation regarding what the governor might say about Trump or Trump’s competing Tuesday event, he didn’t engage. Rather, DeSantis used his own background to paint a contrast for Republican primary voters: his electoral success and accomplishments as governor versus Trump’s electoral skids and failures as president.

As part of his continuing attempt to be ‘Trump without the baggage,’ DeSantis promised to be more effective than the former president at accomplishing their shared policy goals while actually being able to win in November. “We’re not getting a mulligan in 2024,” the candidate said.

On illegal immigration, DeSantis promised, “We’re going to stop the invasion, we’re going to fight the cartels, yes, we’re going to build the wall, and we’re going to restore the sovereignty of this country.”

Criticizing Trump for not “draining the swamp,” DeSantis promised to go above and beyond what Trump could do while in office. “I want to break the swamp,” he said, unveiling his plan to instruct his cabinet secretaries to reduce their D.C. workforces by 50 percent as part of his overall goal to take power out of Washington if elected.

On COVID-19, DeSantis attacked all the major players, from the CDC and FDA to Dr. Anthony Fauci. “It did not work. It failed,” DeSantis said as he reiterated the need for a national reckoning about what happened during the pandemic. “Those agencies are in for a rude awakening because they have failed this country.”

Attendees who talked to NHJournal after the town hall said they liked what they heard.

“Using Disney as a perfect example…keeping that type of CRT and other things out of the schools, I think he’s a representative of that,” said Jay Landry of Methuen, Mass. “And he’s talking about it; not only talking about it, but he’s doing something about it.”

To Mark Johnson of Nashua, DeSantis’s record in Florida is his strongest asset. “I thought he touched on all the issues. I thought he brought in the experience of what he’s accomplished, that he’s not just a guy with a platform but a guy with a platform and a record to go with it,” he said. “I think the transformation he’s brought to Florida is the kind of transformation we need for the nation.

“And we have other fine candidates running who have solid principles and a solid platform, but he’s delivering and showed he can do it, so that to me is the difference,” Johnson added.

But at least one voter, who declined to give his name, said it’s past time for DeSantis to go after Trump head-on.

“If he’s going to beat Trump, he needs to be 10 times more charismatic. I don’t think he’s charismatic enough,” he said. “If he has the attacks of [former New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie, but his [DeSantis’s] policies, he is a winning candidate.

“When you attack Donald Trump, people like it….He has to viciously attack Trump. That’s the only way you’re going to win.”

New State Budget Sends School Spending Soaring, Even As Enrollment Declines

Fewer students and falling test scores couldn’t stop New Hampshire politicians from pouring even more money into the state’s public school system. It is part of a decades-long trend of Granite State taxpayers spending more money to teach fewer children and getting declining results.

Gov. Chris Sununu bragged the FY 2024-25 budget “provides more money for public education than ever before.”

Senate President Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) and House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) released a joint op-ed: “In total, the budget increases state education aid by $169 million over the next two years. In fact, state per-pupil education assistance will increase by 31 percent over the next decade.”

It’s true. Over the next two years, the new budget adds $169 million in state money to K-12 spending. That translates to an expected increase of $1 billion over the next decade, according to the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

The FY 24-25 budget spends nearly $299 million more in the Education Trust Fund than the previous budget, for a total of about $2.46 billion in the fund.

On a per-pupil basis, the FY 24-25 budget increases education spending on all fronts. It sets base adequacy spending at $4,100 per pupil, an 8.3 percent increase from FY 22-23. On top of that, it increases differential aid for each student eligible for free or reduced-price meals ($2,300 from $1,893), each student receiving special education services ($2,100 from $2,037), and each student who is an English language learner ($800 from $740).

But with enrollment steadily falling, the question some taxpayers are asking is, “Why?” If the number of students being served is going down, shouldn’t spending follow?

There were more than 190,000 public school students in the New Hampshire system in 2012. By the fall of 2022, that number had fallen to 161,755. And the problem is getting worse, not better. Between the 2019-20 and 2022-23 school years, there was a 5.9 percent drop in enrollment in public schools (a loss of more than 10,000 students).

There are several reasons for the continued decline, among them being New Hampshire having one of the lowest birth rates in the country and a fast-growing 55 and older population. Recent events have also contributed. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures pushed many away from public schools, coupled with the introduction of Education Freedom Accounts and rise in charter schools in the state.

With declining enrollment and increasing spending, the total cost per pupil (which includes federal, state, and local spending) has also increased dramatically. From 1999-2000 to 2021-2022, the statewide average cost per pupil increased by 78.4 percent to $19,400. During the same period, public school enrollment diminished by a statewide average of around 22 percent.

Focusing on state funding alone, the average cost per pupil for the 21-22 school year was $5,704, an 18.8 percent increase in spending from the 11-12 school year while total enrollment dropped by 13.7 percent. Will that increase in state spending result in lower property taxes at the local level as taxpayers receive more state money to educate fewer students?

The budget also increases charter school funding by 29 percent from the previous budget. The governor is also expected to sign a bill expanding the income eligibility for Education Freedom Accounts by 16.7 percent. Both are acknowledgments of school choice’s increasing popularity in New Hampshire.

Perhaps with good reason. While test scores for traditional public schools just suffered a record decline, scores for charter school students have improved.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University released a study showing “the typical charter school student in our national sample had reading and math gains that outpaced their peers in the traditional public schools (TPS) they otherwise would have attended.”

“Bread-and-Butter of Politics”: AFP on the Ground in NH for FITN Primary

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Chief Executive Emily Seidel sent a memo in February to her staff and activists saying the free-market organization would get more directly involved in Republican primaries.

“Here’s the hard truth as I see it,” Seidel wrote. “The Republican Party is nominating bad candidates who are advocating for things that go against core American principles. And the American people are rejecting them.”

“The Democratic Party increasingly sees this as a political opportunity. And they’re responding with increasingly more extreme policies,” Seidel added. “This means the country is in a downward spiral, with both parties reinforcing the bad behavior of the other.”

Now the organization is putting its words into action on the streets of New Hampshire. AFP activists are talking to voters, gauging what issues are most important to them, and seeing where they stand on the candidates in the Republican presidential primary.

Ethan with AFP knocking doors in New Hampshire

In a recent interview with NHJournal, Seidel said the group’s focus is getting “better” candidates on the ballot.

“If we want to have a better policy-making environment after the November elections next year, we need better candidates on the ballot in the first place. And to get better candidates on the ballot, we need to start a lot earlier, and we need to be involved in more primaries from the top of the ticket all the way down to the bottom. To start to do that work, we’re talking to voters in places like New Hampshire.”

AFP intends to visit every New Hampshire municipality at least once in the lead-up to the primary.

To see this work up close, NHJournal joined AFP NH State Director Greg Moore and Deputy State Director Sarah Scott in Litchfield as they walked neighborhoods and knocked on doors.

Granite Staters are used to this, the state reinforcing its “All politics is local” reputation every four years when presidential candidates descend on the First-in-the-Nation primary state for house parties, town halls, visits to cafes and diners, and yes, door knocking.

“It’s really the bread-and-butter of politics,” Moore said. And with groups like AFP mobilizing, voters will get even more exposure to retail politics this cycle.

“We’re looking to have conversations with voters to understand where they are, figure out what issues are important to them, and where they stand as far as a presidential preference. Are they supporting former president Trump or looking at someone else?”

Specifically, AFP wants to talk to infrequent voters – those who, for whatever reason, don’t vote all the time – making it a point to understand what issues these voters care about most and whether they intend to vote in the state’s presidential primary.

Based on conversations with locals in Litchfield and feedback from AFP activists, the economy and inflation are still top issues for most voters. But AFP is also hearing a lot about immigration and foreign policy, too.

According to Moore, going door to door in every municipality in the state gives AFP a unique perspective about what issues matter most, allowing them to build a model that informs what AFP should focus on in their messaging. “It doesn’t do us any good to talk about issues that nobody cares about.”

The on-the-ground approach allows AFP to see what others can’t. “I think we saw a little bit of that in 2022 when Republicans just assumed everybody was caring about the economy, when in fact you had a dynamic in which there were a lot of people who were concerned about abortion, and Republicans just left that on the table,” said Moore. “We could see that there was a gap there.”

Moore believes they also have an inside look at how the upcoming Republican presidential primary is shaping up, as well. “We usually have better intel than most people about what’s actually going on on the ground just because we have literally thousands of data points,” Moore said. “For example, I can tell you that someone like Vivek Ramaswamy is starting to get some movement because we’re seeing the numbers move.”

Regarding the field of presidential candidates, both Moore and Scott said many voters tell them it’s too early to talk about the election and that most haven’t decided who they’re going to support. But the voters they spoke to during the Litchfield walk-through all said they plan to vote in the First-in-the-Nation primary.

Hearing what voters have to say about the candidates is particularly important for AFP, as Americans for Prosperity Action will eventually endorse a candidate for president later this year. These conversations now, especially with infrequent voters, will help guide AFP’s approach going forward.

“We’re trying to understand their mindset because, at the end of the day, when we do endorse somebody…we have to understand what it’s going to take to get them elected,” Moore said.

Walking up to a house during the walk-through with NHJournal, Moore had some advice for other political groups and campaigns this election season. “They need to get out and do this, to talk to real voters.”

“Too many people in politics live in a bubble, and when they actually get out and talk to people and realize that the stuff that they thought was important bears no resemblance to what the people out there care about, then it becomes a great opportunity to check back and connect yourself to what’s really going on.”

Housing Affordability in NH Hits Record Low

The chickens have come home to roost for New Hampshire’s housing market.

In May 2023, the state’s affordability index – a measure of housing affordability – hit its lowest point in the two decades it has been recorded.

Experts say the combination of high interest rates, restrictive zoning regulations, and lack of affordable housing is to blame.

The record low in affordability comes as median prices for single-family homes reached a record high of $465,000.

The affordability index for May was 66. According to the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, “The number means the state’s median household income is just 66 percent of what is necessary to qualify for the median-priced home under prevailing interest rates.”

For context, “That’s the lowest in NHAR’s recorded history and a 36 percent decline in two years. By comparison, the affordability index in May 2013 was 180.”

As a result, the market has taken a hit. “There were 1,489 single-family residential homes on the market in New Hampshire at the end of May, a 10 percent drop from a year prior,” according to the NHAR – 1.4 months’ supply of inventory.

A healthy, balanced market is generally 5-7 months’ supply of inventory.

Sales are also down, as “the 959 single-family residential homes sold in May marked a 22 percent drop from May 2022. In the first five months combined, sales decreased 21 percent in 2023 compared to the same period last year.”

Borrowing has become more expensive in the fight against inflation. In early May, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the tenth straight time by 0.25 percentage points, bringing rates to their highest mark in 16 years. Today, 30-year fixed mortgage rates are hovering at nearly seven percent.

However, the Fed is widely expected to keep interest rates unchanged when their Federal Open Market Committee meeting wraps on Wednesday.

While monetary policy is important, industry observers say the real problem is at the local level. At a time when housing affordability is at an all-time low in the state, zoning regulations are making it difficult to build affordable housing.

In a 2021 landmark study, Center for Ethics in Society Director Jason Sorens and the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy found residential land use regulations at the local level were a major cause of rising housing costs in the state. As one of the most prohibitive states for residential construction, local regulations – from minimum lot sizes and bureaucratic rules to single-family-only, maximum height, and minimum parking requirements – hinder residential development.

And when the housing supply can’t meet demand, housing prices increase.

The New Hampshire Zoning Atlas, a user-friendly tool to understand local land use regulations, sheds light on the issue. Showing some “23,000 pages of zoning regulations in 2,139 districts in 269 jurisdictions” (according to the Josiah Bartlett Center), the map reveals how difficult New Hampshire townships have made building residential housing.

The Biden administration’s recent attempt to increase housing affordability nationwide was to issue a rule through the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) adjusting mortgage lending by federal guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Having gone into effect on May 1, the new rule effectively means that home buyers with good credit will pay more to subsidize those with bad credit. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Home buyers with a good credit score over 680 will pay about $40 more each month on a $400,000 loan, and upward depending on the size of the loan.”

“Those who make down payments of 20 percent on their homes will pay the highest fees. Those payments will then subsidize higher-risk borrowers through lower fees.”

That rule will likely not have its intended effect and could actually worsen the problem. As Bruce Elmslie, chair of the UNH Economics Department, told NHJournal last month, the rule “creates perverse incentives when you’re incentivizing those actors who have lower credit. And increasing the fee on a higher credit score, that’s a disincentive to people from taking the most credit-worthy actions.”

Selling houses to people who cannot afford them, and subsidizing these high-risk borrowers, has a troubling recent history (think back to the 2008 housing market crash).

In an op-ed for the Union-Leader, state Sen. Donna Soucy and Rep. Matt Wilhelm, both Manchester Democrats, touted the housing funding included in the new state budget that passed with large bipartisan majorities.

“If you’ve tried to find housing in New Hampshire, you are acutely aware that the cost of rent is rising nearly 20 percent year-over-year, which is unsustainable for workers and young families. To alleviate this crisis, Democrats fought to include $25 million for the Affordable Housing Fund, $10 million for InvestNH, and $5.25 million for the newly formed Housing Champions program,” they wrote.

But as long as interest rates remain high and onerous zoning regulations are widespread, taxpayer dollars won’t be enough to create the estimated 150,000 new housing units the state will need by 2040. And with Tuesday’s report that unemployment in New Hampshire dropped to the lowest level ever recorded in the state at 1.9 percent, the demand for that housing won’t diminish any time soon.