Under the SB 193 eligibility criteria, there is nothing to keep the program from growing large quickly. The 2012 ETC program, with much more restrictive eligibility requirements, already has a waiting list of 1,800, over 1% of the students in New Hampshire public schools.
That, together with the generous grants provided for homeschooling, makes SB 193 unprecedented in the whole country. Since, most other programs are targeted in some way, it is difficult to draw solid conclusions about the participation rate, but here are several examples from other states.
Florida, for instance, with 2.8 million students, has three programs. Florida’s Education Savings Account program, with 10,531 participants, is for children with IEPs. A second program also targets students with special needs and has 29,528 participants. The state’s Education Tax Credit program has tighter low income targeting than the New Hampshire program but has 106,958 students.
So Florida, with its tightly targeted programs and no support for homeschooling, has over 147,000 participants, or 5.25% of the states public school population. There would be no rationale for projecting a lower participation rate in New Hampshire.
Arizona, with 1.1 million students, has several voucher-like programs, mostly offering far smaller grants, but even higher participation rates than Florida’s. Arizona has three tax credit programs similar to SB 193 with a total participation of 70,000 students and two programs targeted to children with special needs, comparable to the IEP component of SB 193, with a total participation of 5,461.
The Arizona participation rate of 6.78% is well within reach for New Hampshire. An analysis by the Arizona republic found that “Most children attending private schools at taxpayer expense are leaving high-performing public schools in higher performing wealthy districts.” The program is funneling so much money out of the Arizona school system that 100,000 parents have signed a petition in support of putting Arizona’s proposed voucher expansion on the November 2018 ballot.
Wisconsin, with 874,000 students, has five voucher-like programs, two in specific cities and three that operate statewide. One of those is a tax deduction for any family paying private school tuition, and one is for special needs. Overall, the participation rate is 8.4%
A recent study of the Milwaukee voucher program found that “vouchers are now a dominant source of funding for many churches” and that parishes “running voucher-accepting schools get more revenue from vouchers than from worshipers.”
In Indiana, voucher schools (as they are called) must be accredited, administer the state test and submit to the state’s school system. The state has 1,041,000 students and three choice programs. One provides a tax deduction for private and homeschooling for, currently, 54,755 students. Another 34,399 students participate in a voucher program targeted to low income students in low performing schools. And 8,501 students received scholarships last year from the state’s “school scholarship tax credit” program.
If you add those up, you get a 9.37% participation rate but about 19,000 of those students joined without ever attending public schools. Under SB 193, only children entering kindergarten or first grade could come directly from private schools without having spent a year in public schools, so a participation rate more comparable to New Hampshire’s would be 7.34%.
It is apparent, all things considered, that supporters’ assertions that only 1% of New Hampshire students would use the ESA program are way off. Realistically, New Hampshire should expect a participation rate of at least 5% within the first several years.
Note on the choice of comparison numbers: You will hear supporters of SB 193 talk about participation rate as a “percent of eligible students.” This helps make the case that a small percentage of total New Hampshire students will use the ESA program. However, SB 193 supporters do no know what the total of eligible students actually is, since the numbers of students eligible under criteria #2 and #4 cannot be determined and, in fact, virtually every student in the State could be eligible. In any case, the number that is meaningful to school districts and the General Fund is the total number of students who use the program compared to the total number in the State. Those are the figures we use to compare to other states.