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New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs) gain popularity, and confusion about how the money is spent continues to cloud public discussion.

Contrary to some of the rhetoric used to describe the program, EFA funds are not exclusively reserved for covering tuition costs at private schools. A breakdown of authorized EFA spending in the last fiscal year shows that less than two-thirds of the money was spent on nonpublic school tuition, and some even went to pay for courses at district public schools.

From Sept. 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, the Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire, the state-approved administrator of the EFA program, authorized upwards of $10 million in spending submitted for approval by parents.

About 63 percent of those funds (nearly $6.6 million) covered tuition and fees at nonpublic schools. Of the 116 private schools that received EFA funds, 63 (or 54 percent) could be classified as “religious” schools—schools with a religious component to their operations or curriculum. The other 53 (or 46 percent) included secular nonpublic schools as well as alternative education providers and unconventional models, such as learning pods, micro-schools, homeschool co-ops, etc.

If tuition and fees at private schools accounted for only 63 percent of EFA spending in the last fiscal year, then where did the other 37 percent go?

Parents are allowed to spend EFA money on authorized educational uses, such as textbooks, instructional materials, tutoring, and some limited infrastructure, such as computers and Internet services.

In the last fiscal year, parents spent 17 percent of EFA funds on textbooks, supplies, and other instructional materials, 8.4 percent on tuition and fees for summer education and specialized education programs, 5.2 percent on computer hardware, Internet connectivity, and other technological services, 2.6 percent on tutoring services, and 1.3 percent on tuition and fees for private/nonpublic online learning programs.

Parents spread the remaining 2.5 percent among educational services and therapies, educational software, fees for standardized assessments and other exams, school uniforms, tuition and fees at career and technical schools, tuition and fees at institutions of higher education, and individual classes, curricular activities, and programs at district public and charter schools.

In fact, New Hampshire families directed $27,328.88 to 12 district public schools to help pay for individual courses and programs offered at those schools to supplement their children’s education.

Tuition at nonpublic schools certainly accounts for a sizable portion of EFA funding, but focusing solely on tuition at these schools misses the broad variety of choices parents are making.

Whether it’s paying for a tutoring service like Mathnasium of Nashua, music therapy services at Manchester Community Music School, tuition at Saplings, A Forest & Nature Preschool, LLC, textbooks, and supplies at Amazon and Staples, a class at Souhegan High School, or AP tests through the College Board, the EFA program opens up a host of educational options for families.

It also misses the important point that some families are choosing to purchase services from district public schools.

The portion of EFA spending at district public schools is small right now for two likely reasons: (1) Families using the program now are primarily seeking alternatives to the public school system, and (2) district public schools aren’t accustomed to marketing themselves to parents and providing a-la-carte services (in other words, competing for those dollars).

As EFAs grow, district public schools will need to adapt by offering services that attract parents who’ve been empowered to decide where to spend their state-adequate education grants. When they do, their share of EFA spending will rise.

The competitive forces created by a growing EFA program can be expected to produce a net benefit for all students, those who use EFAs, and those who don’t. Dozens of studies have already shown that the introduction of school choice programs produces positive results for students who remain in traditional public schools. There’s no reason to expect different results in New Hampshire.

According to the Department of Education, 4,211 New Hampshire students are currently participating in the state’s largest school choice program this academic year. That’s a 39 percent increase (1,186 students) from last year’s starting enrollment and a 158 percent increase (2,576 students) from the EFA program’s first year in 2021.

As EFA enrollment grows, its competitive forces will strengthen, leading to further adjustments among all educational providers in the state and a larger variety of opportunities for New Hampshire students.