New Hampshire Senate Approves Universal ESA Bill

Published March 31, 2017

ESAs grant parents access to all or a portion of the money allocated for their child’s public school education, to spend on approved educational alternatives such as private school tuition, learning therapies, homeschooling textbooks, and tutoring.

New Hampshire currently has one school choice program, a tax-credit scholarship program for low-income families to use for private and homeschooling expenses. New Hampshire also has a law in place allowing school boards in small towns that do not offer public education for every grade level to negotiate for parents to send their children to nonreligious schools in neighboring towns, a practice called “town tuitioning.”

Senate Bill 193, introduced by state Sen. John Reagan (R-Deerfield), would establish Education Freedom Savings Accounts granting 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.

SB 193 passed the Senate by a 13–10 vote in late February and is currently pending in the House.

Union Opposition

Reagan says the state’s teachers union poses an obstacle to his bill becoming law.

“We’ve been struggling with Democrat governors for 14 years, and we now have a Republican governor,” Reagan said. “We’re kind of hopeful that this will change things. What happens in the House is anybody’s guess. We have a House where we have a Republican majority, but we’re a volunteer legislature, and too many of the House members are also public employees, and they’re all union members or retired union members, so they tend to dominate.

“The formula is that the Democrats always vote to support the teachers union, and the teachers union, I think, last year gave $5 million just to the Democrat Party candidates in New Hampshire,” Reagan said. “That’s big money.”

‘Fantastic’ ESAs

Jody Underwood, an education fellow at the New Hampshire-based Granite Institute, says an ESA program would solve many of the education challenges the small state faces.

“Town tuitioning only is allowed if you don’t have the grades in your town,” Underwood said. “So, if you have a full K–12 set of grades, you can’t tuition your kids out to other schools. But ESAs would be for anybody who currently goes to public school or is homeschooled. ESAs would allow parents even in the grades we do have in our town—we only have K–4—to choose to send their kids to a private school using ESAs and get the state to pay some of it. It would help.”

‘In the Hands of the Parents’

Reagan says parents should be allowed to control their children’s education.

“The important thing is that [ESAs] place the choice for the purchase of a child’s education in the hands of the parent,” Reagan said. “That’s proven to produce successful students, and it tends to cause all the education providers to compete to try to attract those students who have the savings account money to spend.”

Teresa Mull ([email protected]is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.