What is it about SB 193 that targets the biggest tax impact to the already struggling school districts in our most vulnerable communities? It’s the way the district level cap on ESA grants to students in the district.
Although only students in grades 2-12 would be eligible for an ESA grant under the new propose amendment, the total number of ESA grants in each district is year is limited or “capped.” The number of ESA grants in the larger school districts (over 300 students) is 3% of the total number of students in the district who qualify for free or reduced price lunch (FRL), including all grades. About 127,000 students in grades 2-12 are in these larger districts. Another 13,000 grade 2-12 students are spread over the smaller districts.
ESA grants are targeted to the poorest communities because the poorest communities have the largest number of Free and Reduced Price Lunch students.
|Community||Enrollment in Grades 2-12 (2016/17)||Number of FRL qualified students in ALL Berlin grades||Percent of ALL Berlin students qualified of Free or Reduced price lunch||Annual Cap on ESA Grants||Number of Students who could receive ESA Grants Each Year|
18 ESA grants per year
3 ESA grants per year
Here is a comparison of to New Hampshire communities. Amherst has almost twice as many students as Berlin, but only 4% FRL, while over 57% of Berlin’s students qualify for FRL. The amendment to SB 193 would cap them both at 3% of their FRL students, but 18 students could leave Berlin each year with ESA grants while only 3 student could get ESA grants in Amherst. [See the Note for a detailed explanation of the table]
Here are some more examples:
- Concord has 3,518 students in grades 2-12 and a 38% FRL rate. As many as 47 students could get ESA grants each year. Bedford has 100 more students but a low FRL rate, so it is capped at just 7 students.
- Claremont has 1,368 students in grades 2-12 and but but a high FRL rate so 24 students per year could get ESA grants. Bow has almost as many students but a low FRL rate so is capped at just 3 students per year.
- Pittsfield has only 461 students in grades 2-12. It’s FRL rate is 50% and its ESA cap is 8 students per year. Rye has 479 2-12 students and a low FRL rate. Its cap is just 3 students.
When you read in this Concord Monitor article about Pittsfield’s efforts to overcome its financial challenges, you realize how 3% becomes a very big number to these districts that already struggle to raise revenue would see their revenue decrease further under SB 193. The better off communities would be protected by low caps on ESA grants and see little or no revenue drop.
Passage of SB 193 would mean that either school quality will go down or taxes will go up in New Hampshire’s most challenged school districts.
Note: Berlin, for instance, has 875 students in grades 2-12. About 57% of these Berlin students – 498 students – qualify for FRL and are eligible for ESA grants. The ESA cap would be 3% of the total number for FRL students in Berlin, including those in the earlier grades. In the 2016-17 school year, there a total of 594 FRL students in Berlin, so 3% of those, or 18 students, could get ESA grants each year.
The much wealthier Amherst has 1,517 students in grades 2-12, almost twice as many students as Berlin. But only 5% of all Amherst students, or 61 students, qualify for FRL. As a result, Amherst would be protected with a cap of only 3 students per year.