New Hampshire school choice program survives challenges

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire’s new school choice program survived several legislative attempts to repeal or curtail it Wednesday.

The Republican-led state Senate voted 14-9 along party lines to kill a bill that would have repealed the program. The vote breakdown was the same on another bill to require participants to prove their financial eligibility each year, not just the first year they apply.

The school choice program provides families with income up to 300% of the federal poverty line with “education freedom accounts” that can be used toward private or home school expenses. Participants get about $4,500, the average amount the state pays per pupil to public school districts each year.

Proponents say the program provides school choice to low-income families, while opponents argue it siphons money from public schools while providing no oversight of the education provided by private institutions, which also get to pick and choose which applicants they accept.

Enrollment in the program has vastly exceeded projections. About 1,800 students are participating at a cost of more than $8 million, a huge increase from the $129,000 the Department of Education requested in the state budget.

The House on Wednesday killed a bill that would have limited the program to the budgeted amount.

“Isn’t that what we do for state run programs?” said Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton, referring to capping the budget. He called the program a “blank check.”

Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, said the bill would have decimated the program, forced more than 1,000 children to return to inadequate schools and possibly required their parents to repay the grants.

“People are clearly scared by the success of this program,” he said.