Unexpected increase in EPT enrollments shows program is needed, supporters say

More than 1,600 New Hampshire students have enrolled in the Education Freedom Accounts, far exceeding initial estimates for the School Choice program. More than half come from low-income families.

Drew Cline, president of the free market Josiah Bartlett Center and champion of AGEs, said the original projections were made before the COVID-19 lockdowns and distance learning.

“As good as the schools in New Hampshire are, there is a segment of the population that wants an alternative. And this segment is bigger in fall 2021 than it was in fall 2019, ”said Cline.

Nevertheless, EFA students make up less than 1 percent of the state’s approximately 190,000 public school students.

Parents have become frustrated with their choices over the past year and have been hungry for change, he said. This is especially true for low-income families with fewer educational or professional options.

The program is limited to families with household income up to 300 percent of the poverty index. The money can be used for tuition at the school of their choice, as well as for tutoring, online learning and other education expenses

According to New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, of the current 1,635 participants, 88 are special education students and 81 are English learners. Another 879 – over 50 percent of attendees – are eligible for free and reduced lunches.

“This is a real milestone for New Hampshire, especially as the pandemic has created a clear demand for new and expanded educational options,” Edelblut said in a statement. Education Freedom Accounts provides families with the opportunity to thrive while using personalized learning, tutoring services, vocational schools, technical schools, home schools, and non-public and private schools to enhance and personalize experiences. academic. “

Edelblut released the numbers this week to the Statehouse, triggering a backlash from House Democrats, who have universally opposed the program. Critics complain that the number of participants is much higher than originally expected, and they say the impact of the funding will be significant.

State Representative Kat McGhee (D-Hollis) said on Twitter that the numbers presented by Edelblut, according to a Concord Monitor story she retweeted, are reason enough for him to lose his job.

“$ 8 million in voucher funds sent to 1,635 NH students this month, millions at the door, no academic supervision, you get back the difference in property taxes.” I guess that’s why they bypassed the House and Senate process to pass it. Edelblut has to go, ”McGhee tweeted.

While it is true that more than $ 8 million in state funding will follow students to the schools of their choice, local property taxpayers will be the winners of the EFA program. Since students only take the state’s share of funding, the local share – typically around 70% of the total – stays in school. They keep most of the money but have fewer students to serve, so per-student funding increases when students leave – a fact that critics of the EPT program rarely mention.

The state spends an average of about $ 20,000 per student in public schools, with the EFA program sending up to $ 4,600 directly to families so they can choose the education they want.

“Taxpayers educate these kids for 25% of what they would otherwise educate them in a public school,” Cline said.

McGhee did not respond to a request for comment.

Manchester has the largest number of families enrolled with 166 students receiving AETs, followed by Nashua with 64 students. Rochester and Laconia each have 52 students and Concord has 46.

The program allows families in need of financial assistance to enroll their children in the schools of their choice, according to Kate Baker Demers, executive director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire, the charity that manages the accounts for this year. school.

“New Hampshire families in need are grateful and relieved that the state legislature has passed education freedom accounts for low and moderate income children, and sincerely thank the NHDOE for the innovation and responsiveness. which he demonstrated in implementing the new program in record time, ”said Demers. .

Cline and Edelblut both cite academic studies showing that students in public and private schools perform better academically when competition is introduced.

“Something is happening in these traditional public schools when the school choice programs start to offer real competition,” Cline said. “They respond to this competition. “

A recent study, entitled “Effects of Intensification of Private School Choice Programs on Public School Students”, Found that low-income students particularly experienced better academic performance in districts with school choice.

“These benefits include higher standardized test results and lower absenteeism and suspension rates. The effects are particularly pronounced for low-income students, but the results are also positive for better-off students, ”the study said.

Edleblut said there are dozens of studies showing that school choice improves education at all levels.

“Why wouldn’t we want to adopt a policy that continues to improve our strong schools? Edelblut asked.

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