Democrats seized the opportunity of a temporary majority in the closely divided House Thursday and passed legislation designed to discourage moderate-income families from accessing the popular Education Freedom Account (EFA) program.

Currently, any family earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level can use its child’s share of state school funding to choose whatever education option they decide is best: Private, parochial, education pods or home school, etc.

When GOP absences gave Democrats a 176-169 majority on the floor, they passed HB430, limiting EFA access to “an eligible student who is currently attending a New Hampshire public school, including a chartered public school, for a minimum of one year, or who is entering kindergarten or first grade.”

As a result, students already well along in their education would be forced to leave their current school or program and spend at least a year of their local public school. Critics say it would rip students out of environments where they are succeeding without any educational justification.

“This is just a further attempt to disrupt the wildly successful Education Freedom Account program by limiting school choice and reducing the ability for children to reach their full potential,” said House Education Committee Vice Chairman Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) “Democrats say they are for the children, but their actions prove otherwise.”

During a hearing on the legislation, state Sen. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) supported to policy, acknowledging there are some students for whom their local, assigned public school “may not be the best fit.” But she added, “We can’t know how anything fits without first trying it.”

The goal of the legislation is to stop students currently attending private schools from accessing the funding. But critics note taking away EFA funding only impacts lower-income families. More affluent parents aren’t eligible for the support and will keep sending their kids to the private school of their choice.

That includes Altschiller, who opposes school choice but sent her own children to expensive and exclusive private academies.

Asked to explain the academic theory behind forcing a student out of a successful education program for a year, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, Rep. Mel Myler (D-Hopkinton) — who also sent a child to an expensive, private school — declined to answer the question.

“It’s awfully telling that the first thing Democrats do when they get a short-lived majority in the House is to vote to strip education freedom from low- and middle-income families, all while passing a bill that will raise those same families’ electricity costs,” said New Hampshire GOP chairman Chris Ager. The latter is a reference to Democrats voting Thursday to take about $30 million in Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative rebates away from ratepayers and give it to the state government.

“Granite Staters will remember this shameful act to force kids back into schools that weren’t meeting their educational needs and hurt struggling families by raising their electricity costs further.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Sununu and the GOP are trying to expand access to the EFA program, raising the income limit to 500 percent for families of students with special needs. The bill Democrats passed isn’t expected to get out of the House or the GOP-controlled Senate. If it did somehow make it to Sununu’s desk, he would almost certainly veto it.

Democrats claim the program is “draining funds from public schools,” but the $30 million Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut is asking for in EFA funding represents a tiny slice of the $3.5 billion New Hampshire spends on K-12 education.

Advocates for school choice and parental rights spoke out against the Democrats’ vote.

“We’re disappointed that the House voted to take away education choice for students who are thriving in alternative environments,” said Sarah Scott with Americans for Prosperity — New Hampshire. “Members who voted to do this would scramble students’ education or even retraumatize students who left their schools because of bullying. Forcing EFA participants to return to schools that weren’t working for them is a naked ploy to prevent lower and middle-class families from having the same learning opportunity that wealthy families do.”

Adam Waldeck with 1776 Action blamed “AWOL Republicans” who didn’t show up and gave the Democrats a majority.

“They need to refer to the Bill Belichick playbook: Do Your Job,” Waldeck said.

“There is an education crisis in this country and elected officials in Concord have an opportunity to do something to fix it, like ensuring that parents have the freedom and choice to send their kids to better schools. But that means actually showing up to vote.”

Waldeck also referenced a recent NHJournal poll showing Granite State voters overwhelmingly support parental rights when it comes to making education decisions for their children. Asked who should have the final say when it comes to the education of children, their parents or school officials and teachers, Granite Staters backed parents, 59-32 percent.

“We’d hope that their voters are paying attention—and we’ll be doing our part to make sure they are,” Waldeck added.