High Marks for This Education Policy, but Still Room for Improvement

COMMENTARY Education

High Marks for This Education Policy, but Still Room for Improvement

Dec 20, 2022 3 min read

Commentary By

Jason Bedrick @JasonBedrick

Research Fellow, Center for Education Policy

Jonathan Butcher @JM_Butcher

Will Skillman Fellow in Education

More parents are choosing how and where their children learn today because watchdogs have found educators are using radical ideas about gender and race. Vepar5 / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

New Hampshire lawmakers created EFAs last year to expand access to a wide range of education options.

Studies find that offering children additional public and private learning options results in higher levels of achievement and school attainment.

New Hampshire has much to be proud of and much to improve.

As a classroom teacher and mother of 10 children, Esther Fleurant knows that every child has different needs. And she knows how important education is for their futures.

“I love for my kids to know more than I did,” says Esther. “Knowledge is powerful. You give that to your kids, and you open the world to them.”

But finding the learning environment that’s the right fit for each child can be tough. Fortunately for Esther, she and her kids live in New Hampshire, where they have access to Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs). This has allowed her family to explore a variety of options, including different private schools and homeschooling.

State lawmakers created EFAs last year to expand access to a wide range of education options. Families earning up to 300% of the federal poverty level ($83,250 for a family of four in 2022-23) can use EFAs to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, homeschool curricula, online courses, educational therapies and more.

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The EFAs were an instant hit with families. Last fall, more than 1,600 students received EFAs—about 1% of students in the state. This school year, there are more than 3,000 EFA students. Additionally, more than 1,300 students are using tax-credit scholarships—up from last year by about 30%—and about 5,000 students are attending public charter schools.

New Hampshire’s commitment to empowering families with so many education options is one reason the Live Free or Die state fared so well in the Heritage Foundation’s Education Freedom Report Card—a survey of all 50 states in the areas of education choice, academic transparency, regulatory freedom for schools and a high return on investment for taxpayer spending on education.

New Hampshire ranked 19th in the nation for education freedom overall and 15th for its education choice policies.

Studies find that offering children additional public and private learning options results in higher levels of achievement and school attainment, greater civic participation and tolerance, and lower levels of crime. Choice policies even benefit students who remain in the district school system. Of 28 studies of the effects of education choice policies on the performance of district schools, 25 found statistically significant positive effects.

New Hampshire could improve its education choice score by expanding eligibility to its EFAs to all K-12 students.

More parents are choosing how and where their children learn today because watchdogs have found educators are using radical ideas about gender and race in classrooms. Surveys taken around the country find most parents say that the idea that America is systemically racist or that minor-age children can “choose” their “gender” does not reflect their values—nor are such ideas based on facts. New Hampshire lawmakers were among the first in the U.S. to reject the application of critical race theory in K-12 classrooms by adopting a proposal that says no teacher or student can be compelled to believe the theory’s discriminatory concepts. In our report, New Hampshire ranks 13th for academic transparency based, in part, on this provision.

A high degree of transparency enables parents to hold schools accountable directly. The best way to ensure quality is not through top-down regulations and red tape, but rather bottom-up accountability. New Hampshire takes the latter approach, ranking ninth in the nation for regulatory freedom. Schools and teachers have a lot of leeway to operate as they see fit, and parents provide accountability through their freedom to choose the schools that work best for their kids.

Still, there’s room to improve by making it easier for aspiring teachers to enter the profession. Policymakers could do that by opening alternative pathways to teacher certification (or by eliminating teacher certification requirements altogether) and by allowing full reciprocity of teacher licensure with other states.

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New Hampshire policymakers also need to do more to get spending under control, particularly at the local level. The average per-pupil expenditure, when adjusted for regional cost of living, is the 10th highest in the nation. High spending combined with a significant unfunded pension liability makes for a low return on investment for taxpayers—43rd in the nation.

One area where policymakers could rein in spending is non-teaching staff. New Hampshire’s district schools employ 12 non-teachers for every 10 teachers. This may help to swell union ranks but does little to keep taxpayer resources in classrooms to help prepare students.

In short, New Hampshire has much to be proud of and much to improve.

As for Esther’s children, she says she can “see how they are growing.” Homeschooling with an EFA has given them “the liberty to try different things. Giving your child a chance to get to know themselves is huge.”

All children should have the same opportunities. As Esther observed: “It’s better when you have choices.”

This piece originally appeared in ArcaMax