Lawsuit Challenges Illegal Funding of New Hampshire Voucher Program
A lawsuit filed this month charges that New Hampshire’s 2021 private school voucher law—one of the broadest in the nation—violates state statutes governing education funding as well as the state constitution. The suit, Howes v. Edelblut, asks the court to stop the state from transferring millions in public education dollars to the “education freedom accounts” voucher program.
The New Hampshire Legislature passed the voucher law despite deep public opposition. The voucher program is expansive, with eligibility for families earning up to three hundred percent of the federal poverty level and no requirement of previous enrollment in the public education system. The program provides an “education savings account” voucher where families receive a pot of money to spend on a wide array of private education expenses in addition to tuition, including online courses, tutoring, technology, summer programs, and transportation.
The state is also using a third-party organization, Children’s Scholarship Fund NH, to administer the voucher program, and this organization can approve use of voucher money for any education expense. The recently filed lawsuit highlights that Amazon was the biggest beneficiary in 2021, receiving 18% of the funds released to parents.
The voucher amount is equal to the per pupil funding that the state allocates to public school districts. The vouchers are financed via transfers from the Education Trust Fund (ETF), which was established by the state to fulfill its constitutional duty to provide adequate public education to all New Hampshire students. In just the first year after passing the voucher law, the state transferred over $9 million to the program, and has continued transferring millions more.
The Howes lawsuit alleges that the voucher program violates state law because it is funded via transfers from the ETF. The ETF statute enumerates its permissible uses, which do not include private education or vouchers, and states that the funds are not to be used for any other purpose. Additionally, the lawsuit charges that the voucher law violates the state constitutional provision mandating all proceeds from the state-run lottery, which are deposited in the ETF, be used to support public school districts.
Finally, the lawsuit claims the state has unlawfully delegated its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education by transferring that duty to the private organization running the voucher program. There are scant oversight and accountability protections governing the Children’s Scholarship Fund NH’s administration of the voucher program and a severe lack of transparency.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit is taxpayer Deb Howes, who is also the president of the American Federation of Teachers-New Hampshire.
Proponents of New Hampshire’s program claim the vouchers will give families previously inaccessible education options, but it has been reported that approximately 75% of voucher students previously attended private and religious schools. New Hampshire also received an “F” in Education Law Center’s 2022 Making the Grade report on school funding fairness, meaning it received the lowest possible score for distribution of public education funds to districts with high levels of student poverty. Meanwhile, legislation has been proposed for the 2023 legislative session that would remove income eligibility requirements from the voucher program, which is funded entirely with public education dollars.
For research showing private school voucher programs like New Hampshire’s undermine public education and harm both public and private school students, see Public Funds Public Schools’ fact sheet Research Shows Private School Vouchers Don’t Work for Students and Harm Public Schools. For more information debunking the claim that vouchers are cost effective, see PFPS’s fact sheet on The Myth of Cost Savings from Private School Vouchers.
Education Law Center directs the work of the Public Funds
Public Schools anti-voucher campaign. ELC is the nation’s legal defense fund
for public education rights. Based on decades of experience litigating school
finance and other education equity lawsuits, ELC offers a range of resources to
support litigation, including expert consultation, regular communications on
developments in the field, a case documents library, and an annual Litigators’
Workshop. For more on these resources, please visit this