The story: As legal challenges to the wave of newly adopted education choice laws wind through the courts, a judge just handed New Hampshire a big win.
On Tuesday, the Merrimack Superior Court rebuffed a legal challenge to the Granite State’s Education Freedom Account Program, siding with the state and three parents who intervened with the help of the Institute for Justice.
Presiding Judge Amy L. Ignatius determined that the state legislature “established proper safeguards and did not impermissibly delegate a government function” when it authorized a scholarship funding organization to administer the program.
Flashback: The New Hampshire legislature created the EFA program in 2021 to provide low- and middle-income families with education savings accounts that parents can use for various education expenses, including private school tuition.
In December 2022, Debrah Howes, the head of the American Federation of Teachers in New Hampshire, sued state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, claiming the program violated restrictions on educational funding in the state constitution and state law. The program now serves 4,000 students and continues to grow, according to state education officials.
Zoom In: Howes’s legal arguments focused on several funding sources, including the state Education Trust Fund used to provide adequate education grants to school districts. The complaint also cited a constitutional provision that requires money from the state-run lottery be used exclusively for state school districts.
In rejecting these claims, Judge Ignatius ruled that the nine funding sources that contributed to the Education Trust Fund in 2022 are not segregated, making it impossible to prove that the lottery proceeds were allocated to the program. She also pointed out that after Howes filed her lawsuit, legislators amended the law om 2023 to allow the distribution of Education Trust Fund money to scholarship funding organizations, making Howe’s claim moot.
The judge also ruled that the state’s delegating the program’s management to the Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire did not violate any laws and that the legislation also established an oversight committee to monitor implementation and determine which expenses qualified as educational.
What they’re saying:
“The EFA Program helps my daughters attend a school that meets their unique needs and in which they are thriving. It is a great relief that the program will continue to support educational options that work for my kids and for so many other families across the state.” — Amy Shaw, one of the parents who intervened in the lawsuit
“The court’s decision underscores the legality of the EFA program previously approved by legislators, but more importantly allows New Hampshire students and families to find the best educational pathway available for their unique needs. The value of this program continues to be far-reaching, with numerous success stories emphasizing just how impactful EFAs have been statewide.” — Frank Edleblut, New Hampshire’s education commissioner
“The Legislature should be focusing far more time and resources on the needs of the 160,000 Granite State public school students who deserve a robust curriculum and fully staffed schools, not on the 4,000 students whose families choose to take state-funded vouchers. Vouchers have exacerbated an already disparate burden placed on local property taxpayers to fund the basic right to a quality public education. — Debrah Howe, president, American Federation of Teachers New Hampshire
“This decision preserves the ability of Granite State families to have real options so they can make the best educational choices for their students. All children should be able to receive the strongest education possible to meet their learning needs, no matter their economic status.” — John Formella, New Hampshire’s attorney general
“New Hampshire families in need are grateful and relieved that justice prevailed and that the court dismissed the case and upheld the constitutional EFA program. New Hampshire parents believe they should have the power to spend their child’s education funding on an education that they know will work for their children. All New Hampshire children should have the education that is the right fit for them to realize their unique potential.” — Kate Baker Demers, executive director, Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire
Possible next steps: The plaintiff can file a motion with the judge to reconsider and can also appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.