State's largest teachers union open to legal challenge to voucher law, may try to unionize private schools

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Jul. 6—The state's largest teachers union said it will consider a court challenge to the vouchers system passed into law last month.

NEA-New Hampshire may also look to unionize the private, religious and parochial schools that stand to benefit from the Education Freedom Accounts voucher program that Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law last month as part of the state budget.

"Taking funds away from certified, qualified and financially transparent public schools and teachers to hand them over to unaccountable and untraceable private schools not only make our jobs harder, it is also fiscally irresponsible," said Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-New Hampshire, in a statement to the Union Leader.

"NEA-NH remains open to all options regarding potential legal challenges and organizing private schools that receive public funds," she said.

The new law goes into effect at the end of August, meaning it will be available to families for the coming school year.

It applies to children who come from families whose household incomes of 300% of the federal poverty level or less, which last year worked out to $78,600 for a family of four.

Schools with qualifying children will receive the state adequacy payment that the local school district would receive for the child, anywhere from $3,800 to $8,400 depending on their child's situation, such as eligibility for free or reduced lunches, a special-education designation or English language learner.

EFAs can also go to home school parents to cover education-related expenses.

Under the law, public schools that lose a student will receive 150% of the state adequacy grant for the child the first year. The adjustment amount drops steeply the second year, to 25% of the adequacy amount.

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut has said he can't predict how many parents will opt for an EFA, but he doesn't expect an onslaught of new people clamoring for private schools, at least not initially.

Most of the time, parents are satisfied with their public or charter schools, he said.

"We're serving the students on the margin," Edelblut said about EFAs.

Before the law goes into effect, Edelblut must write rules to govern its operation and contract with a company to oversee the individual EFAs.

A veteran Democrat warns that the program could get bogged down, comparing it to food stamps.

"This will be a very complicated entitlement program," said state Rep. Tim Horrigan, D-Durham. "I think it's open to anything called an education expense, and processing transactions will be difficult.

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