NH has the Opportunity to Move Educational Freedom Forward

Senate Bill 193 hearing. Photo by Michelle Levell

By Michelle Levell

In a split decision, the House Education Committee passed an amended version of the Education Savings Account bill, SB 193. The 10 to 9 Ought to Pass as Amended (OTP/A) decision saw Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the vote; Rep. Barbara Shaw (Manchester) was a swing Democrat and Republican Reps. Bob Elliott (Salem) and Jim Grenier (Lempster) voted against the bill.

This critical bill will empower New Hampshire’s most vulnerable students with more educational options. Children are young only once with one opportunity for a Kindergarten through 12th grade education that fits their needs.

Education Savings Accounts are restricted-use accounts that families may use for approved educational purposes including private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring, online learning, special needs services, dual enrollment programs, and certain homeschooling expenses. The Education Savings Account bill will make New Hampshire the Gold Standard for educational options across the country.

The Education Savings Account bill saw many revisions by the subcommittee and full committee; it changed substantially since passed by the Senate last March. The bill as amended includes multiple accountability mechanisms for financial and academic reporting and stricter eligibility requirements.

The latest version has key compromises including a sunset provision, meaning the ESA program would end in 2023 unless specifically renewed through legislation. There is also a stabilization grant that would compensate districts that experience more than ¼ of one percent decline from their previous state revenue. This will further reduce the financial impact to local districts. It maintains an extensive list of approved uses and administration is managed by a third-party scholarship organization.

The entire NH House of Representatives will vote on SB 193 in early January, soon after opening the 2018 session. Once it passes the House, the bill will advance to the House Finance Committee and again to the full House for a vote on the fiscal impact. Because the Senate and House have different versions of the bill, it will need to be reconciled in a Committee of Conference. Governor Sununu indicates that expanding educational opportunities for NH children is a critical issue to his administration and boldly supports the Education Savings Account bill.