Gary Rayno of InDepth NH is a reliable guide to education politics in New Hampshire. In this post, he describes the decisions that legislators must grapple with starting this week. New Hampshire public schools and public colleges have never been adequately funded, and the state has the misfortune of having a state commissioner who doesn’t care. He homeschooled his own children, and he doesn’t understand why the state pays for public schools.

He begins:

In New Hampshire, public education is a moving target.

It is a hodgepodge of activities and systems from pre-Kindergarten to its colleges and universities.

But the one unifying force along the spectrum is the state’s minuscule financial commitment.

The state’s contributions to public education puts it in line with states like Mississippi and Louisiana although its per capita wealth averages among the highest in the country.

One district has challenged the state in court, claiming that the state does not provide enough funding for an adequate education. State Commissioner Frank Edelblut doesn’t want any new money for public schools, but he’s quite willing to spend more on vouchers (so-called “education freedom accounts”.) The state contends that only the legislature—not the court—can determine funding for the schools.

To date the program is far more expensive than Edelblut advised lawmakers it would be, about $3.3 million this biennium, when the costs to date are well north of $20 million, much of that money paying tuition subsidies to parents whose children were in private and religious schools and homeschooling programs before the EFA program began.

The program was sold as allowing low-to-moderate income parents to find the best educational environment for their child if he or she did not adapt well to the public school setting.

Tuesday the Senate Education Committee will hear three bills that would allow more students to be eligible for the program, which Edelblut told lawmakers would cost $30 million in each year of the biennium.

House Bill 367 would increase the income threshold for a child to be eligible for the program by about $9,000 for a family of four by increasing the cut from 300 percent of the federal poverty level to 350 percent.

House Bill 464 would allow children to automatically qualify if they are in foster care, military families, homeless, and transients. The cost of the change has not been determined although the bill passed the House.

And House Bill 446 would require the organization administering the program to inform parents they will lose their federal special education rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act if they participate in the program.

This is part of the voucher hoax. Children with special needs lose federal right to services if they switch to a voucher school, but most of these parents don’t know it.

The Senate Finance Committee will also have to decide if the House gave the University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System of New Hampshire, too much money, too little money or enough money.

The university system had hoped to finally return to the level of funding it had more than a decade ago, before the 2011-12 legislature cut it in half.

The House approved almost the $200 million the system received before the slashing, and added a little more so tuition could remain frozen and the Whittemore Center could be upgraded.

The community college system successfully fought off a plan by the governor to merge with the university system a biennium ago but continues to face the challenge of providing education in more technical fields while enrollment decreases particularly in the more traditional areas of instruction.

But the system has continued to freeze tuition like the university system in a state where the students have the highest college debt in the country.

New Hampshire’s education system is jumbled and in flux. One thing that could make things a little easier is additional money, but the only program with open-ended funding is the EFA and that could cost the state nearly $70 million a year if all the students in private and religious schools and homeschools decide to participate.

That is almost as much money a year the university system receives and more than the community college system receives.