Only one of three bills expanding access to New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Account (EFA) program made it through the House of Representatives Thursday. But given the GOP’s minuscule majority, school choice advocates are happy to take the win.
The bill, which passed the House by just a single vote, raises the family income cap from 350 percent of the federal poverty level to 500 percent. If the bill becomes law — and it’s likely to receive a welcome reception in the Senate — a family of four making a maximum of $150,000 annually would be able to use the state’s share of their child’s per-pupil education spending (about $5,000) for alternatives like private, parochial, or home school.
“The move by the New Hampshire House is an important step in ensuring that every Granite State student has access to the education they need to succeed,” said Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire Deputy State Director Sarah Scott. “We commend the representatives who voted for this significant step forward.
“AFP-NH will continue to work with lawmakers and activists to get this important expansion of education freedom across the finish line.”
Raising the threshold on the cap was one of three proposals voted on by the House. While it ultimately passed 190-189, another proposal to eliminate the cap altogether failed 186-194. The third proposal, which would have expanded education freedom accounts to ‘marginalized’ groups, regardless of their income, failed 185-197.
The votes came in the wake of New Hampshire’s EFA program being named the most popular school choice program in the U.S. “New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Account Program grew by a whopping 58 percent in the past year—from 3,025 scholarships awarded in 2023 to 4,770 scholarships awarded in 2024,” wrote EdChoice, a nonpartisan nonprofit promoting parental choice. The group also touted New Hampshire for having the “most effective implementation.”
Republican Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) expressed disappointment that just one of the three proposals was approved, saying in a press release that Democrats “put politics over students.”
“The fact remains that we now have the most popular education choice program in the country,” Osborne said. “By failing to provide this flexibility to all children, we are playing petty games with their futures, putting politics over people. This is discrimination against every family who may not fall under an arbitrary level of poverty set by the federal government.
“While the opposition would like to make our children wards of the state from cradle to grave, one-size-fits-all government-run schooling is not the answer for every student.”
Osborne added he’s “look(ing) forward to every child having access to their chosen educational pathway after the coming elections in September and November.”
The issues of school choice and education reform are all but certain to be part of the race for governor. Both Democrats, former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, oppose parental control of education.
Craig wrote on social media that the state “cannot continue to strip resources from New Hampshire’s public schools to support wealthy private and religious schools.” In fact, per-pupil spending has increased, not decreased, since the EFA program was implemented. Each student who takes the state’s share of funding to an education alternative leaves behind approximately $15,000 in funding that can be used to serve the remaining students.
Warmington also took to social media and called the program a “voucher scheme” that has “diverted critical funds for our public school students and increased the property tax burden weighing on Granite Staters.
“As governor, I will ensure public funds go to public schools, not private schools.”
Interestingly, both of Warmington’s children attended the elite Tilton School for secondary education, an independent boarding and preparatory school in New Hampshire. Tilton charges $38,500 for day school and nearly $67,000 for boarding school.
In the lead-up to Thursday’s vote, Democrats like Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm (D-Manchester) claimed eliminating the EFA income cap would result in “$100,000,000 in annual tax hikes.” Asked what “taxes” would be “hiked” if the program were expanded, Wilhelm declined to answer the question.
State Rep. Mel Myler (D-Contoocook), the House Education Committee’s ranking Democrat, ripped the EFA program, claiming it has “run millions of dollars over budget because contrary to its intended purpose as a poverty program.”
Republicans who spoke from the floor in favor of the three bills repeatedly rebuffed Democrats’ attempts to brand the program as a handout to the wealthy or a “scheme.”
“I was there when this original law was introduced, and it had no cap,” said state Rep. Alice Lekas (R-Hudson). “Unfortunately, some deals were made in order to get it passed, and they did put a cap on it. But the idea that it was always meant only for poor kids is not accurate at all. The original bill had no cap. It was always intended to be for every single student in the state.”
Lekas also took exception to Democrats’ use of the term “voucher program.” “It’s an educational account that gives the student a lot of choices and opportunities,” she added.
State Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) challenged Democratic accusations that the program siphons funding from public schools.
“Name me one school in this state that has not gotten the money that they’ve been promised under state law. You cannot do it,” he said.
Cordelli later recited words from Horace Mann, the Massachusetts-based historic pro-publication education figure, whom he quoted as saying, “We who are engaged in the sacred cause of education are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause.”
“Wrong, Horace. This is New Hampshire. This is the Live Free or Die State, and we won’t be hostages to any school,” Cordelli said. “We’re going to expand education freedom. We’re going to support parents, and we’re going to support all New Hampshire kids getting the best education.”
Last month, the Department of Education reported state public school spending surged beyond $20,000 per pupil for the first time, despite declining enrollment. The national average is $14,295.
Kate Baker Demers, executive director of Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire, told NH Journal last month that the average EFA grant in New Hampshire is $5,255, roughly one-quarter of the new cost per pupil for public school students.
Baker Demers said Thursday’s outcome in the House marked a win for school choice proponents.
“New Hampshire families and children are extremely grateful to the House for increasing access to the extremely popular EFA program,” Baker Demers told NH Journal. “Parents believe they should have the power to spend the taxes they pay for education, the piece of state education funding that belongs to their child, on an education that they know will work for their children.
“Universal access to education freedom is the most popular and most logical policy for the Granite State, and this is a good step in the right direction.”