The Bulletin Board

State board approves final education freedom account rules

By: - December 9, 2021 3:48 pm
Four people sitting at tables during a meeting

Meeting on Thursday are (from left to right) Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Christine Brennan, State Board of Education Chairman Drew Cline, and State Board of Education members Phil Nazzaro and Ryan Terrell. (Ethan DeWitt | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The New Hampshire State Board of Education approved formal rules for the state’s education freedom accounts program Thursday, completing the latest stage in a program that has seen higher than expected interest. 

The new regulations – if fully approved by lawmakers in the coming months – will provide clarity to the voucher-like program. Currently, the program is operating under interim rules approved in the summer. 

But the finalized rules also include language that some disability rights advocates have objected to. Under the EFA program, families of students both within and outside of the public school system can access state education grants originally intended for public schools. Those grants can range from around $4,000 to $8,000 per year, depending on what additional aid the child qualifies for. Some of that aid applies if the child has a disability and qualifies for special education.

According to the rules approved Friday, in order to demonstrate that their child qualifies for special education, a parent must have had it certified by their public school through an individualized education program, or have had it certified by a medical professional.

At a November hearing, some advocates had objected to the latter option, arguing that opening up the certification of special education to any medical professional could invite false claims. Students attending public schools do not have the option to use independent medical professionals to determine their disability.

But Board Chairman Drew Cline said the education freedom account rules included the option out of necessity. Because the EFA program allows students to join who have never attended public schools, the parents of those students should have an option to certify their disability without going through the public schools, Cline argued. Allowing independent certification will also remove the burden from public school districts to certify the special education status of students who aren’t enrolled in their schools, Cline added.

The board did modify the rule to tighten up eligibility for special education needs. The final rule that passed Thursday would restrict the list of medical professionals who could approve a special education designation to an existing table in rule 1107.04 of the Department of Education regulations. An earlier version of the rule had not defined which medical professionals could make the designation, leading one participant at a November hearing before the board to ask whether a plastic surgeon could do it.

The rules will head to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, where they will need to be approved and then sent back to the board for a final vote. 

Since the creation of the education freedom account program in the state budget trailer bill in June, interest in the program has been high. About 1,600 students signed up in the first semester this fall, the Department of Education announced, far higher than an initial estimate of 28 in the program’s first year. 

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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. Email: [email protected]