The Bulletin Board

Children’s Scholarship Fund gets one-year contract to administer ‘education freedom accounts’

By: - August 9, 2021 10:27 am
Cinde Warmington stands during an Executive Council meeting

Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington voted against an expanded contract for GYK Antler, a marketing firm handling the state’s vaccine campaign. (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)

This story was updated on Aug. 9 at 11:15 a.m. to correct the income level for a family of four at 300 percent of the 2021 federal poverty level. 

New Hampshire will launch its new “education freedom accounts” program with one organization administering the accounts, after the Executive Council approved a single-source contract Wednesday with the Children’s Scholarship Fund.

In a 4-1 vote, the council signed off on a one-year contract with the Children’s Scholarship Fund to oversee the accounts, which allow parents to withdraw the per-pupil state funding originally intended for their local public school and add it to an account for private school tuition or other expenses.

The New Hampshire Department of Education did not open the contract for a bid to other organizations, Commissioner Frank Edelblut wrote in an explanation to the council. Rather, the department chose to use a sole-source contract with the Children’s Scholarship Fund out of a desire to set up the new funds quickly in time for the 2021 to 2022 school year, he said.

The Children’s Scholarship Fund, which is part of a national nonprofit network based in New York, is already one of two organizations that run the state’s education tax credit scholarship program, in which the state gives tax breaks to businesses that donate to scholarship funds for students to afford private school. 

Edelblut said other organizations could participate in the program in future years.

“It is the intention of the Department of Education to offer a competitive bid process to attract one or more entities, including the Children’s Scholarship Fund, to provide these services in future years,” Edelblut wrote. “Because of the short implementation timeline and lack of qualified organizations in New Hampshire, it was not possible to run a competitive bid process in the first year of implementation.”

Administering the education freedom accounts could be potentially lucrative for the Children’s Scholarship Fund and any other organization that decides to participate in the future. Under the program, the organization will hold the accounts and be tasked with overseeing which education providers can receive the money. 

The amount of money in those accounts will be determined by what additional state funding aid the student would qualify for at public school; lower-income students and students with disabilities, for instance, are given more funding per pupil from the state.

With those factors considered, families could be eligible for annual accounts ranging from $3,787 to $8,458, according to the contract approved Wednesday. 

The EFA law, passed in the state budget in June, allows the Children’s Scholarship Fund to collect up to 10 percent of the value of the funds for administrative costs.

Families making up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level  – $79,500 for a family of four in 2021 – are eligible for the accounts.

Republicans on the council voted unanimously for the contract. Cinde Warmington of Concord, the lone Democrat on the council, voted against it.

In discussion with Edelblut at the council’s meeting in Keene Wednesday, Warmington took issue with one of the program’s central tenets.

“Those are taxpayer dollars going to pay for parents to send their children to private schools?” she asked.

“Correct,” Edelblut responded. “The funding that the parents receive are the taxes that are paid by the families in New Hampshire that would flow through to them and to the educational provider of their choice.”

Warmington also criticized the law’s eligibility requirements. The income limit will apply only for the first year that a family participates in the program. After that, if a family’s income rises, they will still be allowed to receive the state funding until their child has graduated high school or turned 22.

“So if their income doubled and they were no longer in 300 percent of poverty or below, they would be eligible to receive this money for however long their child is in school?” Warmington asked.

Edelblut responded that the rule was necessary to ensure a child stays in the same educational program no matter the family’s financial situation.

“What we find in education is that stability is a very important factor in a child’s success in their education,” Edelblut replied. “And it would be very disruptive to a particular family and a particular child’s educational trajectory if we allow them to go to a particular education program and then we were changing that.”

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.