Education

New Hampshire School Choice Program Opens to Religious Schools

A new law allows cash-strapped districts to send students to private religious schools.

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The Granite State just got a bit more free for religious parents. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill into law last week that will expand a state school choice program to include religious schools. 

New Hampshire—like Vermont and Maine—allows school districts without the funds to run their own schools to pay for students to attend other public or private schools in the area. But until last week, school districts could not pay for students to attend "sectarian" religious schools. 

This new measure amends the state's tuitioning program by striking out the requirement that participating schools be nonsectarian.

"If there is no public school for the child's grade in the resident district, the school board may contract with another public school in another school district or with any private school that has been approved as a school tuition program by the school board," the law will now state. "The district may either assign all children to schools that have been approved as a school tuition program, or allow each child's parent to choose a school from among schools that have been approved as a school tuition program." 

The legislative action follows the 2020 Supreme Court Case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Chief Justice John Roberts opined for the majority in that case that "a State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious." 

By passing the new measure to include religious schools in its tuitioning program, New Hampshire is bringing the state in line with the Supreme Court's opinion. 

Tuitioning programs like New Hampshire's have a long history in New England. Vermont's program traces its origins back to an 1869 legislative act and now serves around 3,500 students. By contrast, New Hampshire's program—restarted in its current form in 2017— only served 17 students in 2019.

Nonetheless, programs like these help pave the way for more options in education. In opening its program up to religious schools, New Hampshire is taking a stand for parental choice. 

NEXT: New York Lawmakers Fight to Keep Chick-Fil-A From State Rest Stops

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  1. Good on New Hampshire.

    1. If there is no public school for the child’s grade in the resident district, the school board may contract with another public school in another school district or with any private school that has been approved as a school tuition program by the school board

      Oh, nevermind. Still force kids into Public Schools as a priority.

      1. My first wonder was that with all the “COVID money” there was a single block in the country without an approved government indoctrination center.

        1. There are some pretty small places in NH where there aren’t enough kids to justify a school. I suspect that is where these students are coming from for the most part. And why there are so few.

        2. These towns have operated this way for years; think about it, if Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa have fond memories of wherever they went to high school, they aren’t going to clamor for the town to suddenly establish it’s own new high school for the kiddos. So in this case status quo kinda helps preserve this particular form of school choice, even as the towns grow and/or federal $$$’s come raining down from the sky.
          And these are almost all high schools, BTW. The towns typically operate a K-8 school and just tuition kids out for high school. My small city in Maine had it’s own high school; we had about 800 students but I’d guess more than 400 of them came from surrounding towns without high schools. (That was hilarious, by the way, on snow days. Each town runs its own buses so they make their own call on snow days. So it would sometimes happen that all the rural towns would cancel school but the “city” wouldn’t. The teachers woudn’t teach anything, since half their class was out, so the rest of us learned early on to have our parents call us in so we didn’t have to show up either. Which means there were only about 100 kids in the building: the half of the freshman class who technically had school, and the handful of upperclassmen who weren’t savvy enough to get excused – or skip.)

  2. “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

    —-Roberts in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue

    “By passing the new measure to include religious schools in its tuitioning program, New Hampshire is bringing the state in line with the Supreme Court’s opinion.”

    —-Ella Lubell

    The thing about that case, however, was that the program in Montana, as I recall, was only taking voluntary donations to a private educations subsidy plan. In other worlds, and this is from memory, the only people whose money was being used to pay for tuition to religious schools was taxpayers who willing donated to the fund in lieu of paying taxes. The donations to the subsidy fund were tax deductible–and they were voluntary. No taxpayer was forced to pay for tuition to a religious school against their will.

    I’m as onboard with replacing public schools with private ones and as quickly as possible–so long as we aren’t violating the First Amendment.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

    —-First Amendment

    Using the coercive power of government to force taxpayers to fund religious instruction against their will would seem to violate the First Amendment’s prohibition against establishment. If taxpayer participation in this program is voluntary, that’s one thing, but violating the First Amendment isn’t the solution to our problems.

    1. “The state of Montana passed a special income tax credit program in 2015 to help fund non-profit scholarship organizations to help low-income families pay for private schools. For tax payers, they were able to pay up to US$150 into the program and receive a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit to support it. This type of tax-credit scholarship program for private school selection is similar to ones in eighteen other states as of 2019.”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espinoza_v._Montana_Department_of_Revenue#Background

      I enthusiastically support that program. It does not violate the First Amendment in regards to the establishment of religion.

    2. In such a case, they should not be forced to fund private secular instruction either.

    3. “Using the coercive power of government to force taxpayers to fund religious instruction against their will would seem to violate the First Amendment’s prohibition against establishment.”

      It seems to me that using taxpayer dollars to purchase a private service, and then excluding certain service providers because they are religious also violates the First Amendment.

    4. Money is fungible. Donations in lieu of paying taxes is functionally identical to using tax dollars. I suppose there’s a minor difference in the spending authority decisions – decentralizing to taxpayers instead of centralizing to legislators – but that distinction doesn’t matter in any other part of the budget. I’m not sure why it’s legally relevant here.

      Giving money to parents so they can send their kids to a maybe-religious school is not “establishment of religion”. This legal question was answered long ago. You can use your GI Bill to go to seminary. The same standard applies here.

      1. “Donations in lieu of paying taxes is functionally identical to using tax dollars.”

        If your money isn’t being taken from you to pay for religious schools, then your rights aren’t being violated.

  3. The government shouldn’t violate the First Amendment in either way, and if this program doesn’t violate the establishment rights of taxpayers, the author should probably point that out in the post.

    “By passing the new measure to include religious schools in its tuitioning program, New Hampshire is bringing the state in line with the Supreme Court’s opinion.”

    —-Ella Lubell

    IF IF IF the program compels taxpayers to fund religious education against their will, then it probably doesn’t bring the state in line with Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.

  4. Kids in New Hampshire can now take this option for granite.

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