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Research & Commentary: The Need for Universal ESAs in New Hampshire

October 31, 2017

New Life For ESA Program Is Good News For New Hampshire Children

A proposal for a universal education savings account (ESA) program in New Hampshire House of Representatives is seeing new life.

If passed, ESAs would be available to parents of public school children to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools. The funds could also be used to pay for textbooks, tutoring services, computers, and other approved hardware, online courses, educational therapies and services. The ESAs could also be used to cover the fees required to take national standardized achievement tests, such as the SAT and ACT.

Funding for each ESA would equal 90 percent of New Hampshire’s per-pupil adequate education grant amount, except for the kindergarten year, in which funding would be 50 percent. Leftover funds would carry over each year of the child’s eligibility and would be available to help pay for tuition at postsecondary schools or used to fund the federal 530 college savings plan, also known as the Coverdell Education Savings Account.

Some accountability provisions have been added to the original proposal, including the creation of a legislative oversight committee to help oversee implementation of the program. Families will also have to submit an annual progress report on their child to the scholarship organization administering their ESA.

legal review released in September 2017 by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy and the Institute for Justice, titled The Constitutionality of Education Savings Accounts in New Hampshire, argues an education savings account (ESA) program would be legal under the state’s constitution.

“There is no doubt that an ESA program in New Hampshire would comport with the U.S. Constitution, and in this paper we conclude that the program would also pass muster under the New Hampshire Constitution,” said report co-author Richard Komer, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, in an accompanying press release. “It is constitutional to give parents the freedom to choose how and where their children are educated, including religious education services providers,” co-author Timothy Keller writes in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Only 51 percent of New Hampshire 4th graders and 46 percent of 8th graders tested “proficient” in math on the 2015 National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) test, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” Only 46 percent of 4th graders and 45 percent of and 8th graders tested proficient in reading. These results show New Hampshire’s public school system is failing to educate roughly half of their 4th grade and 8th grade students to a proficient level in reading and mathematics.

New Hampshire’s troubling performance on NAEP underscores the desperate need for the state to expand school choice opportunities far beyond what is currently available. Too many public schools in New Hampshire are failing to adequately prepare students for productive lives. Parents should be allowed to choose the schools their children attend and should not be penalized financially if that choice is a private religious or secular school.

In May 2016, EdChoice released a report in which it examines 100 empirical studies of school choice programs. Eighteen of these studies used random assignment to measure outcomes, referred to in academia as the “gold standard.” The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence shows education choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires, and, according to the research, it does so at a lower cost. In addition, EdChoice found education choice also benefits public school students. 

Providing a universal ESA program would instantly bring New Hampshire to the forefront of the education choice movement, and would give all New Hampshire families a greater opportunity to meet each child’s unique education needs. When parents are given the opportunity to choose, every school must compete and improve, which gives more children the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information about education savings accounts and school choice.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/education-savings-accounts-the-future-of-school-choice-has-arrived
In this new Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

The Constitutionality of Education Savings Accounts in New Hampshire
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-constitutionality-of-education-savings-accounts-in-new-hampshire
This paper from the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy and the Institute for Justice argues for the constitutional legality of education savings accounts in New Hampshire based on both state and federal precedent.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

2016/17 School Choice Report Card
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/201617-school-choice-report-card
This report card published by the American Federation for Children scores 27 active non-special-needs voucher, scholarship tax-credit, and education savings account programs against ideal standards for program quality. The report is an excellent tool policymakers and researchers can use to help improve education programs and maximize student participation. 

Competition: For the Children
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/competition-for-the-children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

Recalibrating Accountability: Education Savings Accounts as Vehicles of Choice and Innovation
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/recalibrating-accountability-education-savings-accounts-as-vehicles-of-choice-and-innovation?source=policybot
This Special Report from The Heritage Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation explores how education savings accounts expand educational opportunities and hold education providers directly accountable to parents. The report also identifies several common types of regulations that can undermine the effectiveness of the program and how they can be avoided.

The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-fiscal-effects-of-school-choice-programs-on-public-school-districts?source=policybot
In the first-ever study of public school districts’ fixed costs in every state and Washington, DC, Benjamin Scafidi concludes approximately 36 percent of school district spending cannot be quickly reduced when students leave. The remaining 64 percent, or approximately $8,000 per student on average, are variable costs, changing directly with student enrollment. This means a school choice program attaching less than $8,000 to each child who leaves a public school for a private school actually leaves the district with more money to spend on each remaining child. In the long run, Scafidi notes, all local district spending is variable, meaning all funds could be attached to individual children over time without creating fiscal problems for government schools.

Research & Commentary: Indiana School Choice Parental Satisfaction Should Lead to More School Choice
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/research--commentary-indiana-school-choice-parental-satisfaction-should-lead-to-more-school-choice?source=policybot
In this Research & Commentary, Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson examines an expanded, follow-up study to a 2014 report by EdChoice that examines why Indiana parents choose to take advantage of the state’s Choice Scholarship Program voucher and use it to send their children to private schools.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact John Nothdurft, Heartland’s director of government relations, at john@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.

Author
Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department.
TBenson@heartland.org