Home and Senate lawmakers have handed laws requiring a efficiency audit of the training freedom account program in 2023 in a uncommon level of bipartisan settlement over a divisive new initiative.

In a unanimous voice vote Might 5, the Senate authorized Home Invoice 1135, which might require the state’s legislative funds assistant to look at how properly the Division of Schooling is monitoring who will get entry to this system, what the funds are spent on, and the way public colleges are reimbursed.

Handed within the state funds in 2021 and launched that fall, the training freedom account program permits income-eligible dad and mom to take state funds that may ordinarily comply with their little one to public faculty – typically between $4,000 and $7,000 per 12 months – and use them for personal faculty or home-schooling bills.

This system, which is accessible to households making as much as 300 p.c of the federal poverty stage, or $83,250 for a household of 4 in 2022, is run by a non-public nonprofit group that contracts with the state, the Youngsters’s Scholarship Fund.

HB 1135 would require the legislative funds assistant to evaluation this system’s efficiency in: figuring out whether or not mum or dad expenditures are acceptable; assessing members’ preliminary and ongoing eligibility; and discovering and reclaiming improper expenditures or funds.

The audit should study how properly public colleges are reimbursed with this system’s “phase-out grants,” which give restricted aid to high school districts for the primary few years after a scholar leaves and takes an EFA, in line with the invoice.

The invoice additionally requires auditors to evaluation the demographics of the scholars utilizing this system, and evaluate their circumstances the 12 months earlier than and after this system launched.

Supporters of the EFA program, who embrace Gov. Chris Sununu and Division of Schooling Commissioner Frank Edelblut, have stated it ranges the taking part in area for lower-income households who are usually not happy with their public faculty by offering state cash for various instructional strategies.

However Democrats and different opponents have argued that this system improperly diverts that cash away from public colleges, and warn it may result in native faculty funds crunches and pressure state training funding.

HB 1135 comes after different makes an attempt by Democrats to rein in and even repeal the EFA program have been defeated by Republican Home and Senate lawmakers. However the audit invoice has moved forward with bipartisan assist.

Rep. Sallie Fellows, a Holderness Democrat, argued the audit was needed as a result of the construction of this system – a nonprofit distributing state funding and figuring out eligible households and bills – is uncommon.

“We’d like as a lot info as doable to foretell how a lot cash we should always put into the funds for this program,” she testified at a Senate listening to in April. “This can assist make sure the state funds are being correctly managed.”

The Senate-passed model of the invoice moved the efficient date from June 2023 to October 2023. The tweaked invoice is heading again to the Home this week for a last vote.

New Hampshire Bulletin is a part of States Newsroom, a community of reports bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: [email protected] Comply with New Hampshire Bulletin on Fb and Twitter.