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‘Choice for Me, But Not for Thee’? NHDems Oppose EFAs, Send Kids to Elite Private Schools

State Sen. Tom Sherman is running for governor as a self-declared champion of public schools and opponent of school choice. He opposes allowing low-income families to use public money to choose a private school education for their children.

Perhaps the same private school Sherman chooses for his son.

While Sherman says he is a proponent of public school education, he sent his son to the Governor’s Academy in Newbury, Mass., a private school with tuition approaching $70,000 per year, GOP activist Patrick Hynes reported in his Union-Leader column on Sunday.

“The Shermans are a family of considerable financial means and are free to send their kids to whatever schools they want. EFA supporters are merely asking for low- and middle-income families who aren’t as wealthy as the Shermans to be able to do the same,” Hynes wrote.

Sherman doesn’t agree. He voted against the Education Freedom Account law passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Sununu. It allows low and middle-income families to use their child’s share of state funding  — not local money–  to choose an alternative to their local public school. That could be a private school, a parochial school, homeschooling, or a public school outside their district.

“My first choice would be to stop the program,” Sherman said of the EFA system at a recent debate with Republican Sununu. Sherman has also proposed an annual means test so that if a family’s income one year exceeds the current limit (300 percent of the poverty level), even temporarily, their children would be kicked out of the program.

“Tom Sherman is a school choice hypocrite,” says Corey DeAngelis with the Educational Freedom Institute. “He sent his kid to a private school yet opposes school choice for others. I’m glad his family had that opportunity, but he shouldn’t fight to trap low-income kids in failing government schools.

“Marie Antoinette would be proud of Sen. Sherman, because these school choice hypocrites are essentially saying, ‘Let them eat cake!'” DeAngelis added.

Asked about the allegation of hypocrisy, Sherman declined to respond.

When it comes to opposing EFAs while opting out of public schools, Sherman is hardly alone.

Progressive Rep. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) who is currently running for Sherman’s seat in the state Senate, is a staunch opponent of the EFA program, supporting complete repeal.

“Implemented by Republican free staters–and millions of dollars over budget–the school voucher program drains public school funding and threatens an increase in local property taxes,” Altschiller states on her campaign website. But her children have attended elite Phillips Exeter Academy, with $50,000 a year tuition bills, and Berwick Academy, a more affordable $30,000 per year.

Altschiller is also factually incorrect about the EFA program’s impact on local taxes. Because EFA’s only use the state portion of a student’s funding, when students opt out of the local school, the local funding still flows to the classrooms they left behind. As a result, per capita revenue for local schools actually increases when students choose the EFA option.

Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua has also pledged to repeal the EFA program if possible, while sending her son to Groton School, a private boarding school in Massachusetts that currently charges close to $60,000 a year.

Rep. Mel Myler is the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee and a vocal opponent of parental choice. But when NHJournal contacted him about sending a child to Holderness Academy (boarding tuition: $71,000) Myler declined to comment.

And there’s Rep. Marjorie Porter, D-Hillsborough, who complained this year that advocates wanted to make EFA’s more accessible to New Hampshire families.

“They try to sell them as helping poor kids have choices too, but they have brought several bills forward to raise the income cap to five hundred percent of poverty level, or to eliminate it altogether, making me wonder how a family of four earning $132,000/yr. can be considered poor,” she wrote.

But while speaking out against EFA’s this year, Porter admitted she sent her child to a private school because the public schools weren’t working for her family when he son experienced difficulties.

“I certainly understand the need for families to find an alternative to public schools to meet the needs of their children,” Porter testified. “My own two children attended the same public school where I taught. My daughter was fine with it, but not so my son. He was experiencing difficulties, so we sent him to a local private school until he was middle school age.

“It was good that we had that option,” Porter said.

Not all Democrats believe their position is problematic. “I opposed the EFA vouchers too & I myself actually went to a private school,” Rep. Timothy Horrigan (D-Durham) tweeted, unprompted.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire families are flocking to the program with 3,025 participating this year, up from 1,572 last year. According to NH Bulletin’s Ethan DeWitt, ​​1,504 out of the 3,025 are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, meaning 49.7 percent come from households making below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. 

“You’d think the party preaching about equity would be in favor of expanding educational opportunities for all students,” DeAngelis said. “The problem is opposition to parental rights in education is about politics and power, not morality or logic. That’s why 99.99 percent of Randi Weingarten’s teachers union’s campaign contributions have gone to Democrats in 2022.

“But now there’s a new special interest group in town – parents – and they aren’t going away any time soon.”

Don’t Call Me ‘Kasich:’ Sununu Rejects ‘Anti-GOP’ Label

Gov. Chris Sununu is happy to debate his support for Education Freedom Accounts, his push to get communities to build more affordable housing, and his problems with the congressional maps drawn by the House GOP majority.

Just don’t call him “John Kasich.”

The New Hampshire Republican has been making news of late by criticizing members of his own party, in particular former President Donald Trump. He has said Republicans in the U.S. Senate are “just as bad” as their Democratic counterparts — a comment quoted by President Joe Biden in his most recent press conference to push the blame for his legislative failures on the GOP.

He has criticized Trump’s suggestion criminals who participated in the January 6 Capitol riot should be pardoned, and he called Trump “misinformed” when he repeatedly claimed (without evidence) New Hampshire’s 2020 election results were in doubt.

But when asked if he is moving into the “John McCain, John Kasich” lane of GOP politics — “The Republican who runs on the fact that he hates Republicans” — Sununu says absolutely not.

“Don’t compare me to John Kasich. John Kasich is an angry guy who goes out of his way to bash his own party. That’s crazy,” Sununu told NHJournal on Wednesday.

As for his critiques of the GOP, Sununu said he was simply upholding a standard he believes leaders of both parties should maintain.

“I’ve expressed frustration, but I didn’t call anyone out by name. Most Americans are frustrated with both parties. Democrats spent four years stonewalling President Trump, and Republicans stonewalling now. And both parties, when they’re in a majority, not reaching out to find consensus.

“I just demand a higher sense of accountability from my fellow elected officials. I think everybody does. I’m not about bashing Republicans,  not at all.”

A few hours later, Trump advisor and Granite State GOP strategist Corey Lewandowski told radio host Howie Carr the former president had tasked him with “finding someone to run against Chris Sununu.”

The governor did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Sununu was traveling between Cato Institute appearances in Florida and flying to the island Republic of Cabo Verde for a signing ceremony to officially establish a State Partnership under the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program.

A few days earlier, he met with Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman. Asked if he was burnishing his foreign-policy credentials in advance of a 2024 presidential bid, Sununu just laughed.

The New Hampshire governor was in Florida to tout his state’s Cato ranking as the freest state in America. And for Sununu, that also includes the state’s new Education Freedom Account (EFA) program. Democrats spent most of this week pushing legislation to dismantle or restrict EFAs, which allow students to take the state’s share of their public school funding and use it for private, parochial, or other non-public education options.

The program, in its first year, has more than 1,600 participants.

“The EFAs have been a phenomenal success, and folks who are trying to get rid of them are stuck in an antiquated mentality, as opposed to saying ‘the family and the kids come first,” Sununu said. “Everybody sees it as a success, and most importantly those families are seeing the success — especially the lower-income ones. So we’re excited to keep it growing.”

He also had harsh criticism for EFA opponents like state Rep. Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsborough), who recently testified before the House Education Committee that she pulled her own son out of public school and sent him to a private academy. “It was good we had that option,” she said, though she opposes letting low-income families use state funding to do the same.

“That’s exactly the type of hypocrisy we need to get out of government,” Sununu said. “People see right through that. They’re disgusted by it. The ‘good enough for me, but not for thee’ type of mentality.”

Interestingly, education is also part of what Sununu believes is the biggest challenge facing New Hampshire — a lack of housing. Communities are reluctant to allow new housing construction, particularly housing for younger families because they are convinced educating their children will increase property taxes.

Sununu says that’s misguided NIMBYism.

“Just because of demographics, our schools are going to lose three to five percent of kids over the next few years, so it’s not like they’re going to be overrun with children,” Sununu said. In fact, if we can bring in families, it’s just the opposite. The community’s going to grow, you’re going to avoid funding crises. So you want a healthy balance, I get that.

“But this 1990s mentality of fearing young families moving into your community because they’re going to increase costs to your community? That’s old-fashioned thinking that will just lead to bad economics for that town.”

Families, Students Push Back on Efforts to Repeal EFAs

New Hampshire parents and students crowded the State House Tuesday to testify against Democratic Sen. Jay Kahn’s bill to repeal the state’s Education Freedom Accounts.

“I implore you, do not eliminate the Education Freedom Accounts, this program helps so many students and their families,” said Emma Jackson, a sophomore at Holy Family Academy in Manchester. 

Jackson, like many students who testified, has been able to go to a private school for the first time thanks to the EFA’s. The program “funds students instead of systems,” as school choice advocate Corey DeAngelis of the American Federation for Children puts it. The state’s share of a child’s public school funding follows the student to other education options like private or home schooling.

The program, in its first year, has more than 1,600 participants.

“Currently, most of the families that are using the Education Freedom Accounts are low-income families,” said Kate Baker Demers, executive director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund of New Hampshire.

Baker Demers said low-income families have struggled for years to get their children into schools where they can learn. They have also struggled to get their children the right education materials. Now they have the freedom to make the best choices for their families, she said.

“The families that are using them are extremely grateful and think it is right and just that they have access to their education funding,” she said.

Kahn, a Keene Democrat, is concerned that the success of the program will spell trouble for taxpayers down the road. He said the program is costing more than $8 million this year and is expected to double next year. On top of that, Kahn said, the state has cut funding for public education by more than $80 million in the current two-year budget. 

“Every child deserves access to an adequate education, but this isn’t the way to do it,” Kahn said.

Meanwhile, per pupil spending on k-12 education has risen during Gov. Chris Sununu’s administration to the highest level ever.

New Hampshire’s public schools lost more than 8,000 students in the last year as more parents grew frustrated with COVID-19 imposed-remote learning, among other problems. Baker Demers said parents realized during the pandemic that there are more options than their local public schools that fit their family needs better, and those options were finally within reach.

“They didn’t have these options without the EFAs,” she said.

Some Democrats opposed to EFA’s, like Rep. Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsborough) send their own children to private schools while opposing allowing state funding to follow low-income kids to these same schools.

“I certainly understand the need for families to find an alternative to public schools to meet the needs of their children,” Porter testified. “My own two children attended the same public school where I taught. My daughter was fine with it, but not so my son. He was experiencing difficulties, so we sent him to a local private school until he was middle school age. It was good that we had that option.”

Porter has filed a bill in the House to prevent local property taxes from going to religious schools, harkening back to 1870s efforts to stop Catholic schools from receiving public funding. A 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found a state cannot prevent money from going to religious schools if it offers parents grants for education. 

Rep. Rosemarie Rung (D-Merrimack) mocked families who need the grants on Twitter, calling EFA’s handouts.

“My parents sent all 4 of their kids to Catholic school on a USAF officer salary and they would never, ever expect a government handout to do so,” Rung wrote on Twitter.

Baker Demers said low-income families deserve equal opportunities when it comes to education, and EFAs provide those opportunities.

“That’s the point, to overcome those inequalities,” she said.

“These are students who struggled in their old learning environment for a variety of reasons from bullying, learning difficulties, or health concerns,” said Sarah Scott from Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire. AFP-NH was heavily involved in the passage of EFAs and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation spent last summer spreading awareness of the new program to parents.

Families, Scott says, “are ecstatic to have been given the chance to have their children learn in a setting that helps them to thrive.”

Kahn said EFA’s downshift costs for public education onto local property taxpayers, an assertion advocates deny. Sen. Denise Ricciardi (R-Bedford) said the tax money is following the child through the system, and it will not result in higher taxes.

That is true in part because, while state funding follows the student, local funding remains in the schools. As a result, every student who uses an EFA leaves behind around $10,000 or more for their former school to spend on the remaining students. More money, but fewer students.

Regardless of the math or the praise of parents, the state’s teachers unions still oppose the EFA program.

This is a multi-million-dollar example of failed leadership that will ultimately hurt our kids,” said Meg Tuttle, president of the NEA-NH, the state’s largest teachers union. 

Tuttle did not elaborate on how families choosing what they believe are better education choices for their children “will hurt kids.”

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) was a  prime sponsor of the legislation creating EFA’s last year. He made it clear this week he will fight to keep the program operating.

“Our Education Freedom Accounts have proven to be more successful than anyone imagined. Currently, 1,635 students are enrolled in the EFA program, giving working families the power to choose the best educational path for them,” Bradley said. “The pandemic has shown us the need for greater educational options, especially for families who traditionally could not afford the choices wealthier families have always had.  EFA’s provide that pathway. Students of hard-working families of modest means deserve the opportunity for education choices that best suit their needs.” 

More NH Parents Opt for Catholic Schools as COVID Surges

Enrollment in New Hampshire’s Catholic schools continues to climb as parents seek alternatives to public education.

Dana Kelliher wanted more for her boys, Aiden, 10, and Connor, 8. After almost two years of dealing with her sons’ educations being held back in public schools due to pandemic-related restrictions, Kelliher believed her sons could be doing more.

“We were really just looking for a more rigorous curriculum,” she said. “We wanted them to do more old-fashioned learning. I didn’t want them on a chrome book everyday.”

The Kelliher’s settled on Saint Joseph Regional Catholic School in Salem. There, her sons are in grounded programs that push them to excel, she said, especially in reading and working.

“I feel like they’re coming home with actual grades, and there’s a lot more communication with the teachers,” she said.

The Kelliher’s are far from alone in switching to parochial schools. According to the Diocese of Manchester, 214 new students enrolled in its 18 diocesan schools at the start of this current school year, for a total of 3,692 enrolled students statewide. That increase represents a 6.2 percent increase over the 3,427 students in parochial schools last year.

“This is a resurgence in an interest in Catholic education across the state,” said Alison Mueller, director of marketing, enrollment, and development for Catholic schools. “We believe that parents are the primary educators of their children, and we serve to partner with them in that education and formation. This type of message resonates with parents.”

Mueller said parents want better academics, and also better values in schools. In a recent survey distributed by the Catholic Schools Office, parents indicated they want God in the classroom, traditional academics, and family values.

“Parents want to know that when they send their child to school each day, they are in a safe and joyful place. The pandemic disrupted the educational system in 2020 and since then, I think parents have become more invested in ensuring the best outcomes and educational options for their children. More families are realizing they do, in fact, have options,” said Superintendent of Catholic Schools David Thibault

The Catholic school enrollments started going up in the summer of 2020, with a first wave of about 500 new students. The diocese responded to the pandemic by launching a Transfer Incentive Program to help families afford the tuition. They also announced a commitment to in-person learning during the coming school year.  

After parents experienced months of pandemic-related shutdowns, the parochial alternative looked good to many. The parents who tried it apparently liked it. According to Mueller, 80 percent of those students who made the switch to Catholic schools are still enrolled.

Kelliher said the small community built around the school is providing a positive and safe social setting for her children. She also feels more connected to the staff and teachers in the school than she did before.

“I feel more in the loop, knowing what they’re doing everyday,” she said.

Parochial schools aren’t the only alternate education being explored by New Hampshire parents. More than 4,100 students are homeschooling this year, according to the Department of Education. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, about 3,000 students homeschooled in New Hampshire, though that figure jumped in the 2020/2021 school year to more than 6,000.

Across the country, public school districts are openly discussing a return to remote learning, despite overwhelming data showing it is detrimental to educational outcomes. Prince Georges County, Md. has already announced it is ending classroom instruction until at least January 18, 2022. More schools are expected to follow.

New Hampshire offers Education Freedom Accounts for parents looking for assistance to pay for private school, or even homeschool materials and equipment. More than 1,600 students have taken advantage of the program so far. The state is also home to 30 public charter schools that provide uniquely tailored programs for students throughout the state. 

New Hampshire Blows Opportunity to Become Nation’s Leader on Education

In New Hampshire, it’s déjà vu all over again. The House Education Committee just voted to retain Senate Bill 193, which would have established a universal education savings account (ESA) program in the state. The “Education Freedom Savings Accounts” would have granted parents of public school and homeschool students access to 90 percent of their child’s state public education funding and up to 50 percent for kindergarten students to spend on educational alternatives, such as private school tuition, homeschool textbooks, tutoring services, and learning therapies.

The Democrats in the New Hampshire House pulled out the tired, old, baseless arguments liberals of the education establishment have been using for years: “Our New Hampshire Constitution is clear that private funds cannot be used for sectarian purposes,” state Rep. Mary Heath (D-Hillsborough) said. “This bill undermines public education.”

“Rep. Tamara Le, D-North Hampton, said she was concerned that the bill could siphon between $75 million and $100 million away from the public school system,” the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.

Unfortunately for New Hampshire families, representatives of the “Live Free or Die” state would rather watch children’s educations be destroyed under the greedy guidance of the teachers unions who control them than give students access to a variety of educational choices.

The claims made by public-education advocates are no more accurate than their so-called “concern for the children” is believable. State supreme courts have ruled in Arizona and Nevada Blaine amendments—provisions borne out of anti-Catholic bigotry of the late 19th century that prohibit public money from funding “sectarian” institutions—do not make ESAs unconstitutional, because it’s the parents who sometimes choose to spend the money on religious schools, not the state.

EdChoice reports, “Public data show that states and cities typically increase their per-student spending in the years following school choice programs’ inception.” For example, EdChoice found Milwaukee public schools increased per-student funding by more than $5,000 from 1992 to 2011, even though the city instituted a school choice program in 1990 that many supporters of the education status quo said would cripple public education.

Rep. Heath should be aware of the precedent set most recently and dramatically in Nevada, and Rep. Le should know the “school choice drains public school funding” narrative is a myth. These legislators are either shamefully ignorant and/or misinformed or they’re simply choosing to ignore the facts. Either way, lawmakers who deny reality in favor of their special interests are unqualified to tell parents they have no right to customize their child’s education to fit their needs.

New Hampshire had the opportunity to pave the way for the nation, to show what living free in the spirit of the American way truly means. But the power of the teachers unions and the control they have over Democrats (93 percent of the $33.2 million teachers unions gave directly to politicians during the 2016 election went to Democrats) was too much for the legislature this time around, and children in the state will continue to suffer in failing public schools because of it.

The good news is that not everyone is taking the Blaine blame game sitting down. The U.S. Supreme Court is in the midst of hearing arguments in a case that could undermine one of the biggest weapons in the pro-public-school people’s arsenal. Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, alleges its application for a state grant to replace its playground’s gravel surface with scrap tire that’s friendlier to kids’ knees was denied because it’s a religious institution. Trinity Lutheran says the state constitution’s Blaine amendment is standing in the way of a safer playground, and recent reports covering the debates held before the U.S. Supreme Court suggest a majority of the nine justices agree.

It appears there’s momentum to rid the country of the bigoted Blaine amendments at last and move real education choice one step closer to actuality. Let’s hope New Hampshire children don’t have to wait much longer to get access to the educational resources Heath and Le believe they don’t deserve.

One of Gov. Sununu’s Education Priorities Passed Favorably Out of Committee

In a victory for New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, the House Education Committee voted favorably for a bill that would increase state funding for full-day kindergarten. However, a school choice bill was killed for the rest of year.

Sununu has called himself a “believer in school choice,” but had some reservations about Senate Bill 193, which would establish education freedom savings accounts for parents to use taxpayer funds and turn them into personal “scholarships” for students.

The measure would have allowed parents to use the approximately $3,500 that schools receive per student and put the money for tuition in private or religious schools, pay for the costs of homeschooling, or even for supplies to tutor their children. It’s similar to the typical voucher program in other states, but the New Hampshire bill allows parents to use the funds for multiple educational opportunities that they want for their child.

Opponents don’t want taxpayer funds to be diverted from public schools. They also say the program would unconstitutionally provide taxpayer dollars to religious schools. Supporters argue the bill gives parents more options for their students.

The House Education Committee sidetracked the bill Tuesday and voted 15-4 to retain it in committee to study further, essentially killing the bill until 2018.

“There are a lot of aspects to this bill which I think we really need to drill down,” said Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, chairman of the committee.

The bill previously passed the Senate on a 14-9 vote in March.

Rep. Mary Heath, D-Manchester, said “this bill undermines public education.”

“Our New Hampshire Constitution is clear that public funds cannot be used for sectarian purposes,” she added. “We have failed to fund our public schools in the manner in which we should fund them. To move to this process would undermine what we have stood for.”

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, was the author of the bill, and he told reporters after the vote that retaining the bill was due to the result of special interest groups, specifically the unions, who blocked his legislation. He said it was a loss for the students of New Hampshire.

Yet, the bill had bipartisan support in its defeat with several Republican lawmakers saying they wanted to draft a better version of the bill that has a chance of passing in the Legislature.

Rep. Dan Wolf, R-Newbury, said retaining a bill in committee is equivalent to “death with dignity. So let’s hope that this is death with dignity.”

Despite supporting school choice, Sununu raised questions last week about how the legislation could impact public schools.

“I think when it comes to using state money for schools, and I think a lot of people know I’m a big believer in school choice, that whatever we do, we have to make sure we’re not harming public schools,” he told New Hampshire Public Radio. “We’re not just removing funds out of those schools and we understand that as we move money around, what those pros and cons might be. I do have concerns when you start using state funds, whether it be a voucher program, or all the different terms that you want to put for it, to schools of a non-public nature.”

 

FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN PASSES

At the same committee hearing, on a 15-4 vote, representatives passed Senate Bill 191, which would increase funding for full-day kindergarten, a priority Sununu has pushed this legislative session.

Sununu made a rare appearance before the committee last week, urging the House committee to approve the Senate bill, which was modeled after his original proposal.

In his budget proposal, Sununu called for $9 million-a-year to be given out in grants to the communities with high levels of low-income students and English language learners that wanted to opt for full-day kindergarten programs instead of half-day. The Senate approved of that plan in March on a 21-2 vote.

The House Education Committee voted to amend the bill, recommending that the House fund full-day kindergarten for all communities, regardless of need, that wanted to expand their kindergarten programs. They also voted to increase the cost to approximately $14.5 million per year, which was the same amount that Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, proposed in the first draft of the bill in the Senate.

“Today’s actions are a significant step forward for New Hampshire,” Sununu said in a statement. “Full-day kindergarten is good for children, families, and a critical tool in retaining our workforce.”

The bill will be taken up by the full House next week. If passed, it would be sent to the House Finance Committee for review, before returning to the House for a final vote.

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School Vouchers vs. ESA: The School Choice Debate in NH Heats Up

Education Freedom Accounts Serve the Public Good

The House Education Committee heard testimony on a Senate bill Tuesday that would establish “education freedom savings accounts” for students in the state. Emotions ran high during the crowded hearing in what has been a battle of school choice advocates versus supporters of public schools. Yet, the terms “school vouchers” and “education savings accounts” (ESA) haven often been thrown around synonymously at the New Hampshire State House, resulting in misinformation being spread around about Senate Bill 193.

The bill would allow parents of students between the ages of 5 and 20 to work with an approved scholarship organization to receive 90 percent of the per-pupil state grant funds (approximately $3,500) to be used to cover tuition or other costs at a school of the family’s choice. The family can use the funds to pay for private school tuition — including religious schools — homeschooling expenses, and other academic expenses. The bill passed the Senate on a 14-9 vote in March.

Opponents of the bill claim the ESA would take funding away from public schools that need it most, since students from underfunded or struggling school districts would most likely take advantage of the program. The critics also said the program would unconstitutionally provide taxpayer dollars to religious schools.

Supporters argue the bill would give parents more options for their students, since they know what’s best for their own children. They also claim that by granting parents alternatives to public schools, it would create competition and encourage public schools to increase their performance.

“The American education system has substantially failed to produce what they’re charging for,” said bill sponsor Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, at the hearing.

“It is trying to resolve the problem of having the most expensive education system in the world, and not having the best prepared students in the world,” he added. “The argument we hear is, if we take all this money from our public schools – and this is what our public school administrators tell us – they tell us they won’t know what to do.”

Yet, several opponents of the bill have been using the terms ESA and school vouchers interchangeably to describe what the legislation would do.

The state’s largest teacher union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT-NH), has also been telling its supporters that the ESA bill is code for a school voucher program.

“SB 193 is a voucher bill under the guise of ‘Education Freedom Savings Accounts,'” they wrote on their website.

Voucher programs and education savings accounts are similar, but not identical. However, the distinction between them is often muddled by politically-loaded terms. A state school voucher program grants parents a credit for a certain tuition value that they can use to enroll their child in a private school

ESAs are similar, but offer more flexibility to the parents. When parents get an ESA, they are awarded a yearly sum that can be mixed and matched to suit their children’s educational needs. The funds can be used all for private school tuition, like a voucher, or they can split it among many education opportunities like private tutoring, textbooks, and even saving for college.

The AFT-NH encouraged their supporters to fill out a robo-petition that would be sent to lawmakers encouraging them to vote “no” on SB 193 and creating ESA for students.

“Despite being labeled an ‘Education Freedom Savings Account,’ make no mistake this is a voucher bill which will directly take taxpayer dollars intended for our public schools and divert to private and other institutions,” the petition website states.

House Education Committee Chairman Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, said his panel would likely vote on the bill at the end of the month. The committee has until April 26 to act on this legislation, at which point, it would probably go to the House Finance Committee before reaching the House floor for a vote.

Due to Republicans holding a slight majority in the House, it’s likely the bill will pass committee. What ultimately happens when it comes to a floor vote in the full House is anyone’s guess.

A recent survey from Citizens Count, NH’s Live Free or Die Alliance found 54 percent of respondents were opposed to “granting parents a portion of state funds to pay educational expenses for private or home-schooled students” and 46 percent supported the measure.

The bill has even grabbed the attention of former Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who wrote a Monday op-ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader expressing his support of the ESA bill.

“Empowering parents with the freedom to choose encourages positive change because the right to educate their children no longer can be taken for granted,” Bush wrote. “It must be earned. I commend Sen. John Reagan and Rep. Joseph Pitre for introducing this legislation, and Gov. Chris Sununu, who has been a passionate advocate for school choice.”

There are still some questions to be answered and changes the bill needs before the House votes on it. House Finance Committee Chairman Neal Kurk, R-Weare, said he supports the bill, but the question over funds going to religious schools would need to be addressed. The state constitution expressly forbids taxpayer funds going to religious schools.

Anne Edwards, an attorney with the state’s attorney’s office, warned lawmakers at the Tuesday hearing that if they don’t tweak the bill in regards to the religious school issue, the state could face legal and constitutional challenges.

However, Kate Baker, director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, said legislators shouldn’t let the threat of litigation stop them from passing the bill.

“I believe this will be in the courts, no matter what you do,” she said. “Parents want to go to court and fight for their right to make these choices for their children.”

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