The Truth About Vouchers
A Look at New Hampshire's Costly Voucher Program
Despite ranking dead last in state funding towards public schools, “Education Freedom Accounts” (AKA vouchers) were snuck into law in 2021 in spite of wide opposition. For reference, the public hearing for House Bill 20 drew 3,198 people to sign in to oppose the bill, while only 600 people signed in support.
Instead of moving forward with the voucher bill in the normal process, the Senate Finance Committee included it as a last-minute addition to the state budget.
New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Account program (EFAs) is one of the most expansive in the entire country. Families only need to provide income verification once, and then never have to verify their income again, and can utilize these vouchers until their child graduates from High School.
These EFA vouchers can pay for a multitude of expenses, including tuition at private schools (including religious schools), online courses, or home-schooling materials.
The public was misled that the cost would be $129,000 in the first year (FY22) and $3.3 million in the second year (FY23). However, vouchers ended up costing over $8 million in the first year and $14.7 million this year – at a 2-year total of roughly $23 million and counting. The funding comes out of the state’s Education Trust Fund, which contains funding reserves for public education.
Also alarming is the simple fact that most of the students receiving this funding were never even in a public school to begin with. Only 27% of this year’s enrolled students came directly from public schools. In the first year of the voucher program, only 204 of the 1,800 students had actually attended a public school the prior year.
It is important to note that these vouchers’ true costs are much more than what comes out of the state’s Education Trust Fund to pay for the vouchers themselves. We also need to factor in the costs associated with the loss of revenue to public schools.
- Public schools currently receive $3,786.66 per year from the state for each student in attendance. Although the total number of children leaving public schools is quite small, the cost for school districts can quickly add up. According to an analysis done by Reaching Higher NH, if only 2% of eligible public school students enroll in the voucher program, it would cost local school districts roughly $13.6 million over three years.
- The argument from school privatizers is that the “money will follow the child”, but this is not a well-thought-out or accurate argument. Consider what would happen to one school with 500 students, if 10 students disenrolled in order to receive a voucher: The school will lose $37,866 in state aid, but will still have the same expenses to cover unless all 10 students came from the same exact grade (obviously this is highly unlikely). Because these 10 students would almost certainly be coming from various different grades (and possibly different schools within the district), schools would not simply be able to reduce their costs by removing one teaching position (for example). What will happen is that the school will either have to make severe cuts to programming and/or staff or this $37k loss will need to be made up by local property taxpayers.
Vouchers & Academic Performance
The big lie is that vouchers produce better results for students and that is simply not the case. One study showed that students in Indiana receiving vouchers “experienced significant losses in achievement” in math and saw no improvement in reading. Another major study from Louisana’s voucher program found dismal results in both reading and math after a child left his/her public school and used a voucher to transfer to a private school. Even a voucher study released by a conservative think tank found that these students using vouchers to attend private schools “fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”
Vouchers & The Role of Special Interests
It may not feel like it, but big money and special interests have invaded New Hampshire. Americans for Prosperity, through its NH chapter, has been actively involved in lobbying for and promoting the state’s voucher program. They canvassed door-to-door, sent out mailers, paid for ads on social media, and created a website to try to encourage more people to apply for vouchers. In August 2022 they even hosted an “Education Freedom Fair” to promote vouchers, charter schools, private schools, and other non-public school programs. The NH Department of Education also had a booth at this fair, which is not a surprise knowing Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut’s affinity vouchers.
Why does Americans for Prosperity care so much about “education freedom” in New Hampshire anyway? Americans for Prosperity (AFP) was founded in 2004 by the Koch brothers in an effort to limit taxes and government spending.
According to Charles Siler, a former lobbyist for school privatization, the promotion of vouchers is about “reducing the tax burden on wealthy individuals at the state level”. According to Siler, voucher programs are “designed to exacerbate the destruction of public funding for education.” He states, “If the privatizers could create their ideal education model, which they are building towards every day, individual families would determine how important their children’s educations are to them by funding that education on their own. They would create a model similar to what we have for higher education, where individuals can take out loans to cover the cost of their K-12 education. The premise being that if education for an individual is truly a worthwhile investment, then the individual receiving the education should bear those costs.”
The above excerpts are from an interview with Charles Siler published by The Washington Post on April 16, 2021 by Valerie Strauss.