In 2021, New Hampshire approved a program to help eligible parents of students pay for various private education expenses. Under the new law, eligible parents can create an Education Freedom Account (“EFA”), into which the state government will deposit a sum of money to be used for private education outside of the public school setting. The annual base amount is approximately $3,500, but can be as high as nearly $8,600 for students who meet certain criteria. What follows is not intended to be a complete reference source for the EFA program; instead, it is intended to provide some of the more important basics that parents should understand. For more thorough information, you should consult with a qualified attorney, or with the New Hampshire Children’s Scholarship Fund, which administers the EFA program.
Who Is Eligible?
To be eligible:
- You must be New Hampshire residents;
- The student must:
- Be between the ages of 5 and 20;
- Be in grade K – 12;
- Not have graduated high school;
- Your household income (total gross income for all adults living in the home) must be no higher than 300% of the federal poverty level. The following chart shows what 300% of the federal poverty limit is for 2021:
|Family Size||Annual Income Limit|
|Add $13,260 for each additional person|
How Much Can You Receive?
If approved for an EFA grant, the base amount is approximately $3,500, but adjusts for inflation (NH Rev Stat § 198:40-a (2021), NH Rev Stat § 198:40-d (2021)). The EFA grant amount might be higher for certain students, as described below (the actual numbers might be even higher due to an inflation adjustment):
- If the student is eligible for the free and reduced price meal program, add on approximately $1,780;
- If the student is an English Language Learner, add on approximately $700;
- If the student is receiving special education, add on approximately $1,900;
- If the student has been determined to be “Not Proficient” on the NH Statewide Assessment 3rd Grade Reading Assessment, add on approximately $700.
Putting this all together, the final grant award could range anywhere from approximately $3,500 to $8,600, depending on the student’s circumstances.
What Can the Grant Be Used For?
EFA funds can be used only for the following educational expenses:
- (a) Tuition and fees at a private school.
- (b) Tuition and fees for non-public online learning programs.
- (c) Tutoring services provided by an individual or a tutoring facility.
- (d) Services contracted for and provided by a district public school, chartered public school, public academy, or independent school, including, but not limited to, individual classes and curricular activities and programs.
- (e) Textbooks, curriculum, or other instructional materials, including, but not limited to, any supplemental materials or associated online instruction required by either a curriculum or an education service provider.
- (f) Computer hardware, Internet connectivity, or other technological services and devices, that are primarily used to help meet an EFA student’s educational needs.
- (g) Educational software and applications.
- (h) School uniforms.
- (i) Fees for nationally standardized assessments, advanced placement examinations, examinations related to college or university admission or awarding of credits and tuition and/or fees for preparatory courses for such exams.
- (j) Tuition and fees for summer education programs and specialized education programs.
- (k) Tuition, fees, instructional materials, and examination fees at a career or technical school.
- (l) Educational services and therapies, including, but not limited to, occupational, behavioral, physical, speech-language, and audiology therapies.
- (m) Tuition and fees at an institution of higher education.
- (n) Fees for transportation paid to a fee-for-service transportation provider for the student to travel to and from an education service provider.
- (o) Any other educational expense approved by the scholarship organization.
Beware the Possible Loss of FAPE
If you are the parent of a special education student, you are probably aware of the school district’s requirement to provide FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). This is the foundation for the services that are provided through your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program). If you unilaterally place (meaning on your own, at your own expense) your child at a private school, the New Hampshire EFA Parent Handbook warns:
Parentally-placed private school children with disabilities shall not be entitled to a FAPE in connection with their enrollment by their parents in a private school, in accordance with 34 C.F.R. 300.148(a) and pursuant to 34 C.F.R. 300.137(a), while participating in the state-funded EFA program.Children’s Scholarship Fund Education Freedom Account Parent Handbook, p. 8 (2022) (found at https://nh.scholarshipfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/NHEFAParentHandbook9.7.2022.pdf)
Consider the Cost / Benefit Analysis
Private special education schools can be expensive. You can easily expect the annual cost to be $50,000 – $100,000 or more. You can find the cost for all private special education schools that have been approved by the state of New Hampshire here: https://www.education.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt326/files/inline-documents/sonh/2021-2022-with-dhhs-rate-included-approved-rates-as-of-6-30-2021.pdf. If you believe your child needs placement at an approved special education school, you should weigh the financial benefit of the EFA versus the benefit – but risk and expense – of trying to get the school district to pay for the placement. The EFA benefit might be just a “drop in the bucket” of the overall expense of such a placement. You still might be better off maintaining the FAPE requirement and trying to obtain a placement paid for by the school district.
This blog article provides information on some of the more important aspects of the EFA, but there is a lot more that parents need to understand. The EFA is a nice benefit in certain situations for certain families, but might not be appropriate for all eligible families. More information from the state of New Hampshire is available here. It might also be helpful to consult with an education lawyer licensed in New Hampshire.
The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Please visit https://www.lawbaron.com for more information, or to schedule a phone or video consultation.