Shortly after Governor Chris Sununu signed into law New Hampshire’s ‘Account for Educational Freedom’ program, the staff of Laconia Christian Academy sprang into action.
Starting in late June last year, the small private school began notifying families who were already attending their school and qualified for the new scholarship program. The program, which allows parents across the state to access state funds to use for private school or homeschooling fees, is open to students in both public and private schools.
The school contacted families throughout the summer, followed by several phone calls. And he launched a social media campaign to tell new families about the state program.
In a few months, the efforts paid off. All but two families whose children were already in school applied for the funding. And the existence of the program has brought many others.
“We had 36% enrollment growth last year,” said Rick Duba, the academy’s school principal. “And…based on the pre-registration, we’ve already gone up about 10 or 12% into next year. So that’s a very concrete difference it’s made for us.
Laconia Christian Academy receives one of the highest levels of EPT funding in the state, according to figures released by the Department of Education last month, absorbing 4.05% of the $2.4 million spent by families on March 1. But it’s not alone. The state’s smaller private schools — many of which are Christian — received the majority of scholarships in the program’s first year, about 62.34%, according to figures from the New Hampshire Children’s Scholarship Fund, l not-for-profit organization that distributes funding.
Computer hardware, textbooks, online programs and educational materials come in second place.
Passed by lawmakers last year, the program allows families earning 300% of the federal poverty level — $79,500 for a family of four — to apply for and access the US Public Schools Funding Grant. state for their child. The Children’s Scholarship Fund then uses an online software application called Class Wallet, which allows parents to upload bills for expenses allowed under the law or purchase supplies directly through the program. The program prohibits reimbursement requests for items that are not covered by the program.
Allowed categories include tuition for in-person learning; tuition fees for online learning; tutoring services; private lessons in public schools; manuals; computer and internet hardware; educational software; school uniforms; standardized test fees; summer tuition; vocational or technical education costs; behavioural, physical or speech therapists; and transportation costs to get to a school.
According to the latest figures, $2.4 million has been spent out of the total $5.9 million allocated to families so far. Of parental expenditures, 62%, or $1.5 million, went to tuition and fees at a private school; 13.5%, or $324,742, went to computer hardware or internet connectivity devices; 12.9% went to textbooks; and 3% went to summer education programs and special education programs.
Of the educational service providers receiving funds, Amazon was the largest recipient, with 18.2%, or $437,736 of total funds. A breakdown of these expenditures shows that $211,295 is spent on computer equipment and $168,117 on textbooks or other educational materials.
After Amazon, the list of beneficiaries largely includes private religious schools. Trinity Christian School in Concord was the school’s largest recipient, with $135,712, or 5.64% of the $2.4 million. Laconia Christian Academy, Mount Royal Academy Lancaster, Concord Christian Academy, Dublin Christian Academy and Ossipee Cornerstone Christian Academy were all among the first eight recipients. Ninth place, at $50,439 refunded, went to Staples.
The figures came as other figures released by the Department for Education indicated that the majority of EFA recipients this year were already attending private schools or homeschooled when they applied for EFAs. Of 1,800 students enrolled in the program so far, about 204 had been enrolled in a public school the previous year, according to department data.
Not all requests for reimbursement have been successful, Education Department Commissioner Frank Edelblut and CSF Chief Executive Kate Baker Demers noted in presenting the figures to the House EFA Oversight Committee and of the Senate earlier this week.
As of March 1, 4,933 orders had been approved by the organization, 535 were rejected for not meeting eligibility criteria and 205 applications were deemed incomplete. The CSF approved about 100 orders a day, Baker Demers told lawmakers.
For Laconia Christian Academy, the new money has not affected students who are admitted, Duba said, noting that the school accepts students on a non-denominational basis “blind to need.” But the additional funding that attaches to some of its students will allow the school to withdraw some of the financial aid it provides to these students – which come in the form of discounts – freeing up more of its budget for teacher salaries.
And he said the money has helped local families who were interested in attending school but could not afford it; tuition is approximately $11,000 and financial aid can cover up to 60% of this. Some families attended, dropped out of homeschooling, then re-enrolled when the EPT curriculum was adopted, Duba said.
“There are a lot of families who wish they had choice in education and couldn’t,” he said. “Even with what we were doing internally,” he added, referring to the school’s existing financial aid program.
Since its passage, the EFA program has been sharply criticized by public school teachers’ unions, public school advocates and Democrats, who say it will become a drain on the United Nations Education Trust Fund. the state, which provides the state’s share of funding for public schools. Critics have pointed to the ability for students at existing private schools to access the program — a feature missing from other states’ college savings account programs — which they say is too broad.
For Duba, the program is working as intended by giving choice to students in the Lake District. Many new families entering her school have expressed frustration with COVID-19 policies such as mask mandates, something Laconia Christian Academy did not implement at the start of the school year. last fall.
“If I had said I was going to open exactly the same as the public schools in the Lake District, we wouldn’t have gone up 35.36%,” he said.
But the influx of new students into the academy has also caused growing pains at the school. In future years, the school may need to organize a fundraising campaign to build more facilities, he said.
“I’m losing my office,” he laughed. “My office is going to be a classroom next year.”
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