School Choice in New Hampshire
Homeschooling, Educational Freedom, and Resources
School Choice in New Hampshire is alive and well! The ‘Live Free or Die’ State is a leader in educational freedom, with a culture that respects local control and parental direction of children’s education. State law is homeschool-friendly and provides for tax-credit scholarships and town tuitioning. Free Staters have worked effectively with New Hampshire natives to move educational freedom forward, despite national and local efforts that prefer to standardize education and limit school choice.
Homeschooling in New Hampshire
Homeschooling freedoms took big steps forward in 2012 when pro-liberty legislators, activists, citizens, and parents worked together to reduce homeschooling requirements. Now parents need only notify their intent to homeschool one time per student. And while parents are required to keep records of each child’s home education program and to complete a year-end assessment, they are not required to submit portfolios or assessment results to their school district. In 2018, more than 700 people attended a public hearing to oppose the reinstatement of burdensome pre-2012 requirements, and the bill was soundly defeated.
Generally, homeschoolers are very welcoming and helpful, connecting newcomers with the community. There are scores of resources available to homeschooling families in New Hampshire, including statewide organizations and smaller support groups aligned along interest and location. Free Staters even have a statewide group on Facebook.
A new kind of organization is starting to take shape, that of a private non-profit self-directed learning club for homeschoolers. Big Fish Learning Community, located in Dover, is one such club. This learning community is for self-directed teens who do not fit into the classic school model. They are members of the Liberated Learners Network following the North Star Model of Self-Directed Education.
New Hampshire is home to an amazing tax-credit scholarship program. Unlike vouchers, which are funded by tax dollars, these scholarships are funded by private donations (corporations and individuals). There are no strings attached to the scholarships, so parents decide which school best fits their child’s educational needs and goals. Our tax-credit scholarship program can be used for out-of-district public schools, private schools, religious schools, and homeschooling expenses. The average scholarship is $2500 but can vary greatly based on financial need.
While other states have tax-credit scholarship programs, New Hampshire is the only state that offers the scholarship to homeschoolers. Our tax-credit scholarship program has faced several repeal efforts and a legal battle. We’ve won each time. The state’s largest scholarship organization is the Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire.
Town Tuitioning (Local School Choice in New Hampshire)
The three northern New England states of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine have all been using the school choice practice of “town tuitioning” for well over a century. That is, when no school in a district provides particular grades, students in those grades are sent to other schools, which may be public or private, and may even be located in other states. The district pays all or part of the tuition for these schools. In New Hampshire, local control has been the standard since districts were initially established in 1885, and tuitioning was formally established in 1901 for any district that did not offer all K-12 grades. However, tuition contracts with private schools, including those in other states, have been used in New Hampshire since at least as far back as 1792.
In 1949, a change to one statute limited the choice to public schools and public academies (independent schools that agree to follow the state’s curriculum and testing requirements), while other statutes still granted school districts the power to make contracts with “other literary institutions.” Since the state statutes related to the practice of sending students to private schools were ambiguous, pro-liberty people banded together to get the legislature to enact a law in 2017 to clarify that it is legal for school districts to make contracts with non-religious private schools as part of their tuitioning programs, essentially rolling back the law to how it used to be prior to 1949.
All New Hampshire charter schools are part of our public school system; none are privately or corporately owned. Charter schools are an important part of school choice in New Hampshire, as they are a half-step out of the traditional school system. They give families the understanding that a monopoly is not the best way to provide education, and this opens their minds to other liberty concepts. Charter schools have some flexibility — only 50% of staff must be certified teachers, they can have different educational approaches (e.g. Montessori, online), and they may operate outside the local school boards that are often hostile to the competition. However, charter schools are still subject to required statewide assessments.
As of June 2018, there were 26 charter schools across the state, with three new ones slated to open in the fall. Charter schools are open to anyone who wants to attend them, and many have wait lists, clearly indicating that families want more options for their children. The top rated public school in the state is a charter school in Nashua, the Academy of Science and Design (ASD). ASD was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2017 by the federal Department of Education. The state has an online charter school, the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) that is open to full-time students, homeschoolers, and part-time students.
Although we haven’t had major policy improvements for our charter schools in recent years, we have fought off multiple attempts to harm our charter schools, including a moratorium on new charter schools that ended in 2013.
New Hampshire’s public schools are considered among the best in the country, coming in 3rd on the 2015 NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress; also called the “nation’s report card”). The Granite State is also considered in the top states for pre-K through 12th grade education according to US News & World Report. We generally have small class sizes, low teacher-to-student ratios, and excellent results on the SAT and other accepted measures of determining academic success.
Even within public schools, parents have a degree of control and school choice in New Hampshire. Parents can opt their children out of objectionable class materials and pay for a substitute if it achieves the same educational objectives. Parents can exempt their children from taking statewide assessments, and in 2018 the law codified that students cannot be penalized for doing this, thanks in part to a liberty-minded Commissioner of Education.
By Michelle Levell and Jody Underwood
#1 for Child Well-Being
#3 for Raising a Family
#4 for Quality of Life
#5 for Safety
#8 for Health
#10 for Happiness
An Incredible Quality of Life
New Hampshire boasts a gorgeous landscape with four distinct seasons. It features cities and small towns near rivers, lakes, mountains and the sea. Ranked #2 for Pre-K-12 education, the state has some of the best schools in the country, with active homeschool networks. It is one of the most religiously tolerant states – and also the least religious. New Hampshire is a hiker’s dream, with 48 high peaks and access to the Appalachian Trail. There are plenty of opportunities for fun and adventure, including the largest arcade in the world.
“This state… it is so beautiful. We’re surrounded by so many great people and places, so much history. I honestly feel more free here.” – Carol, mover from Wisconsin