At yesterday’s Finance Committee hearing on SB 193, advocates for the bill continued to quote the requirement that students’ families earn no more than 300% of poverty, or $73,600 for a family of four, as the key determinant of student eligibility for large ESA grants. However, the criteria listed on page 1 of the bill make clear that eligibility is, in fact, unlimited. Here are all the pathways the bill provides into the voucher program:
- All students whose families have an income of less than $73,600 for a family of 4 are qualified; OR
- The student’s school does not provide an adequate education; OR
- The student has an IEP or 504 plan; OR
- The student applied and was not admitted to a charter school or to the 2012 Education Tax Credit program.
#1 alone, though not really children from low income families, is already a large number of students. Based on NHDOE numbers, 40,000 children qualify for free or reduced price lunches (185% of poverty), but that’s just children in actually low income families. Supporters of the bill do not know how many children there are in the far larger number of families with up to $73,000 of annual income. However, about half of New Hampshire families have incomes below $73,000, so a good starting estimate would be that half the children in our public schools are in that category.
For criterion #2, not addressed yesterday by SB 193 proponents, there is no income restriction. But there is also no firm definition of which schools those are. The statute the bill refers to does not clarify the matter but seems to allow the commissioner of education to designate the failing schools. If he designates a high number of failing schools, there will be a large number of students eligible for vouchers regardless of family income. (Many of the schools with the lowest test results are in the most property poor communities in the State.)
Criterion #3 accounts for 29,000 students with IEP’s, some of whom may be in families with incomes that qualify for a grant, but others do not. NHDOE has not published the figures needed to calculate the overlap but SB 193 supporters apparently had them yesterday and we will add them soon.
#4 is entirely open ended and will lead to a large number of new charter and 2012 ETC program applications from those who, regardless of their incomes, just want to qualify for this generous new grant.
Taken together, these four eligibility criteria mean that there is effectively no income limit or any other material limit on eligibility for the program. Said another way, it is clear that virtually any family in New Hampshire could qualify for the program under one or another of the criteria, under criteria #4 if no other.