The 4 biggest myths about education freedom accounts debunked
Critics are relying on misleading talking points to deny New Hampshire parents access to education freedom accounts.
House Bill 20 would grant education freedom accounts, or EFAs, to all New Hampshire parents.
EFAs respect New Hampshire families by empowering them to direct their child’s state education funding to learning experiences that fit their child’s needs – rather than a one-size-fits-all system. But critics have resorted to misleading and untrue statements about the program in an attempt to sway lawmakers and the general public.
Here are four of the most common myths, debunked:
Myth No. 1: EFAs will lead to worsening education outcomes for students.
Fact: Empirical studies on EFAs show better outcomes for students.
Studies on EFAs show strong evidence for the program improving outcomes for students. These studies have looked at three voucher programs and five privately funded scholarship programs across five states and Washington, D.C.
Of the 17 random-assignment studies examining test scores for these programs, 11 found positive outcomes for either all students or at least one subgroup of students. Four found no significant effect for any student group. And three found negative outcomes for all or some students.
Cherry-picking negative studies while ignoring the mountain of evidence in favor of EFAs is misleading and disrespectful.
Myth No. 2: EFAs would hurt public schools and cause property tax hikes.
Fact: EFAs reduce demand for property tax hikes and increase per–pupil funding.
Critics have attempted to scare lawmakers and homeowners into believing EFAs would hurt the quality of local public schools, or result in punishing property tax hikes. This is false
EFAs only redirect the state portion of education funding – an average of $4,600. If a parent chooses to remove her child from a given school for an option better suited to their needs, the local portion of funding remains the same. That means the school is left with more per-pupil funding, not less.
Myth No. 3: EFAs lack oversight and accountability.
Fact: EFAs provide greater accountability and oversight of education funding.
Critics point to Arizona’s education savings account program as evidence that parents cannot be trusted to administer money for their child’s education.
But Arizona’s experience actually shows parents are more responsible than government-run programs, and misuse has been virtually eliminated through an online system that New Hampshire’s EFA program would provide.
Critics often seize on an Arizona Auditor General report showing 99% of ESA funds were spent properly – with roughly 1% of total funding, or $700,000, misspent. It’s important to note that a great deal of this “misspending” was not intentional fraud, but rather spending on education that had been allowed by the department in the past by parents who had not been notified of the change in policy. By comparison, the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs have improper payment rates of 16% and 23% respectively, according to the Goldwater Institute.
HB 20 provides comprehensive safeguards against fraud and abuse:
- The New Hampshire Department of Education oversees the scholarship organization that administers EFAs.
- The scholarship organization is required by law to publish annual audits.
- The scholarship organization is required by law report cases of suspected fraud to the DOE and attorney general’s office.
- The scholarship organization is empowered to contract with a third-party vendor to administer the payment system. In Arizona, this system is called and it makes fraud virtually impossible by allowing parents to choose from a comprehensive list of approved educational products and services. New Hampshire’s EFA program would use a similar online portal.
Most importantly, EFAs make all schools directly accountable to parents. If a school is not meeting parents’ standards, EFAs empower them to choose another education option – whether public, private, independent or homeschool – that is better-suited to their child’s unique needs.
Myth No. 4: EFAs would allow schools to discriminate against parents and students.
Fact: Private schools are prohibited by federal law from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin.
All private schools are by federal law from discriminating on the basis of race, color or creed. However, it is perfectly appropriate for there to be all-girls or all-boys schools, schools that cater to particular special needs or disabilities, or schools that are exclusive to a particular religious affiliation.
Some critics have specifically said the program would allow discrimination against students with special needs. But not every school is equipped to handle every type of special need, which is why many New Hampshire public schools have long contracted with other public schools or even private schools to meet the needs of certain children. In fact, educational choice programs in Arizona and other states have spurred the growth of private options that better meet the needs of students with special needs. According to the Arizona Department of Education, there are 84 approved “private school education schools” in addition to an untold number of traditional private schools that also enroll students with special needs.
It’s important to recognize that discrimination is a societal problem not limited to education, and that public schools still struggle with discrimination. Take the testimony on a bill that would have eliminated New Hampshire’s tax credit scholarship program in 2019, for example:
“Wendy Santiago showed wrenching photos of a child who repeatedly bore the bloody wounds from a bully who attacked him in school. In written remarks, Shalimar Encarnacion shared how her youngest son begged her to not send him back to public school after his counselors misdiagnosed his learning disability and ‘exiled’ him to an internal suspension classroom rather than treating him with the care and compassion he deserved.”
Fortunately, those students were able to get tax-credit scholarships that empowered them to switch to a school environment where they could thrive.
All New Hampshire families should have that same power.
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