Bill Text: NH HB20 | 2021 | Regular Session | Introduced


Bill Title: Establishing the Richard "Dick" Hinch education freedom account program.

Spectrum: Partisan Bill (Republican 13-0)

Status: (Introduced) 2021-10-05 - Executive Session: 11/09/2021 09:30 am Legislative Office Building 205-207 [HB20 Detail]

Download: New_Hampshire-2021-HB20-Introduced.html

HB 20-FN-A-LOCAL - AS INTRODUCED

 

 

2021 SESSION

21-0751

06/04

 

HOUSE BILL 20-FN-A-LOCAL

 

AN ACT establishing the Richard "Dick" Hinch education freedom account program.

 

SPONSORS: Rep. Packard, Rock. 5; Rep. McGuire, Merr. 29; Rep. Ladd, Graf. 4; Rep. Osborne, Rock. 4; Rep. Cordelli, Carr. 4; Rep. Hill, Merr. 3; Rep. Mooney, Hills. 21; Rep. Edwards, Rock. 4; Rep. Umberger, Carr. 2; Sen. Bradley, Dist 3; Sen. Ward, Dist 8; Sen. Reagan, Dist 17; Sen. Morse, Dist 22

 

COMMITTEE: Education

 

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ANALYSIS

 

This bill establishes the Richard "Dick" Hinch education freedom account program.

 

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Explanation: Matter added to current law appears in bold italics.

Matter removed from current law appears [in brackets and struckthrough.]

Matter which is either (a) all new or (b) repealed and reenacted appears in regular type.

21-0751

06/04

 

STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

 

In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Twenty One

 

AN ACT establishing the Richard "Dick" Hinch education freedom account program.

 

Be it Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened:

 

1  This act shall be known as the “Education Freedom Account Act” or “EFA Act.” The program created by it shall be known as the “Education Freedom Account Program” or “EFA Program.”

2  New Chapter; Education Freedom Accounts.  Amend RSA by inserting after chapter 194-D the following new chapter:

CHAPTER 194-E

EDUCATION FREEDOM ACCOUNTS

194-E:1  Definitions.  In this chapter:

I.  “Adequate education grant” means the grant calculated under RSA 198:41.

II.  “Curriculum” means the lesson and academic content taught in a specific course, program, or grade level.

III.  “Department” means the department of education.

IV.  "Education freedom account” or “EFA” means the account to which funds are allocated by the scholarship organization to the parent of an EFA student in order to pay for qualifying education expenses to educate the EFA student pursuant to the requirements and conditions of this chapter.

V.  “Education service provider” means a person or organization that receives payments from education freedom accounts to provide educational materials and services to EFA students.

VI.  “Eligible student” means a resident of this state who is eligible to enroll in a public elementary or secondary school including;

(a)  A student currently attending a New Hampshire school that is remote or hybrid;

(b)  A student currently assigned to a New Hampshire public school with assessment proficiency below 40 percent;  

(c)  A student currently attending a New Hampshire public school, including a chartered public school, public academy, or nonpublic school;

(d)  A kindergarten or first grade student; or

(e)  A sibling of a student with an education freedom account.

(f)  Students in the special school district within the department of corrections established in RSA 194:60 shall not be eligible students.

VII.  “EFA student” means an eligible student who is participating in the EFA program.

VIII.  “Full-time” means more than 50 percent of instructional time.

IX.  “Remote or hybrid” shall mean any public school that is not providing instruction in-person where the student or the educator are not physically present in the traditional classroom due to full-time or part-time classroom closure.

X.  “Parent” means a biological or adoptive parent, legal guardian, custodian, or other person with legal authority to act on behalf of an eligible EFA student.

XI.  “Program” means the education freedom account program established in this chapter.

XII.  “Scholarship organization”, means a scholarship organization approved under RSA 77:G, that will implement all portions of this chapter.

XIII.  "Treasurer" means the treasurer of the state of New Hampshire.

194-E:2  Program.

I.  The treasurer shall transfer to the scholarship organization the per pupil adequate education grant amount pursuant to RSA 198:40-a, plus any differentiated aid that would have been provided to a public school for the eligible student.  The transfers shall be made in accordance with the distribution of adequate education grants under RSA 198:42.

II.  Parents of an EFA student shall agree to use the funds deposited in their student’s EFA for the following qualifying expenses to educate the EFA student:

(a)  Tuition or fees, or both, at a private school.

(b)  Tuition or fees, or both, 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 public school district, chartered public school, or 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 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 or fees, or both, for preparatory courses for such exams.

(j)  Tuition or fees, or both 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 recommended by the scholarship organization and approved by the department.

III.  The scholarship organization shall provide to the parents an explanation of the reasons for a denied expense.

IV.  Any refund or rebate for goods or services purchased with EFA funds shall be credited directly to the student’s EFA.

V.  Parents will be allowed to make payments for the costs of educational goods and services not covered by the funds in their student’s EFA.  However, personal deposits into an EFA shall not be permitted.

VI.  Funds deposited in an EFA do not constitute taxable income to the parent or the EFA student.

VII.  An EFA shall remain in force, and any unused funds shall roll over from quarter-to-quarter and from year-to-year until the parent withdraws the EFA student from the EFA program or until the EFA student graduates from high school, unless the EFA is closed because of a substantial misuse of funds.  Any unused funds shall revert to the state treasury and be allocated to fund other EFAs.

VIII.  Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to require that an EFA student be enrolled, full- or part-time, in either a private school or nonpublic online school.

194:E-3  Application for an Education Freedom Account.

I.  A parent may apply to the scholarship organization to establish an EFA for an eligible student.  The scholarship organization shall accept and approve complete applications for the fall and spring semesters each year and shall establish procedures for approving applications in an expeditious manner.

II.  The scholarship organization shall create a standard form that parents can submit to establish their student’s eligibility for the EFA program and shall ensure that the application is publicly available and may be submitted through various sources, including the Internet.

III.  The scholarship organization shall approve an application for an EFA if:

(a)  The parent submits an application for an EFA in accordance with any application procedures established by the scholarship organization and approved by the department.

(b)  The student on whose behalf the parent is applying is an eligible student.

(c)  Funds are available for the EFA.

(d)  The parent signs an agreement with the scholarship organization:

(1)  To provide an education for the eligible student in the core knowledge domains that include science, mathematics, language, government, history, health, reading, writing, spelling, the history of the constitutions of New Hampshire and the United States, and an exposure to and appreciation of art and music.

(2)  Not to enroll the eligible student as a full-time student in a public school while participating in the EFA program.

(3)  To use the funds in the EFA only for qualifying expenses to educate the eligible student as established by the EFA program; and

(4)  To comply with the rules and requirements of the EFA program.

IV.  The signed agreement between the parent and the scholarship organization shall satisfy the compulsory school attendance requirements of RSA 193:1.

V.  The scholarship organization shall provide the parent and the department with copies of approved applications.

VI.  The parent may appeal a denied application to the department.

VII.  The scholarship organization shall annually renew a student’s EFA if funds are available.

VIII.  Upon notice to the scholarship organization, an EFA student may choose to stop receiving EFA funding and enroll full-time in a public school.

(a)  Enrolling as a full-time student in the resident district public school shall result in the immediate suspension of payment of additional funds into the student’s EFA.  However, for EFAs that have been open for at least one full school year, the EFA shall remain open and active for the parent to make qualifying expenditures to educate the student from funds remaining in the EFA.  When no funds remain in the student’s EFA, the scholarship organization may close the EFA.

(b)  If an eligible student decides to return to the EFA program, payments into the student’s existing EFA may resume if the EFA is still open and active.  A new EFA may be established if the student’s EFA was closed.

194:E-4  Authority and Responsibilities of the Scholarship Organization.  In addition to the scholarship organization’s duties, obligations, and authority under this chapter, the scholarship organization shall have the following additional duties, obligations, and authority:

I.  The scholarship organization shall maintain an updated list of education service providers and shall ensure that the list is publicly available through various sources, including the Internet.

II.  The scholarship organization shall provide parents with a written explanation of the allowable uses of EFA funds, the responsibilities of parents, and the duties of the scholarship organization and the role of any organizations that the scholarship organization may contract with to administer any aspect of the EFA program.

III.  The scholarship organization shall ensure that parents of students with disabilities receive notice that participation in the EFA program is a parental placement under 20 U.S.C. section 1412, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), along with an explanation of the rights that parentally placed students possess under IDEA and any applicable state laws.

IV.  The scholarship organization shall, in cooperation with the department, determine eligibility for differentiated aid subject to any applicable state and federal laws.

V.  The scholarship organization may withhold from deposits or deduct from EFAs an amount to cover the costs of administering the EFA program, up to a maximum of 10 percent annually.

VI.  The scholarship organization shall implement a commercially viable system for payment of services from EFAs to education service providers by electronic or online funds transfer.

(a)  The scholarship organization shall not adopt a system that relies exclusively on requiring parents to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses, but rather shall provide maximum flexibility to parents by facilitating direct payments to education service providers as well as requests for pre-approval of and reimbursements for qualifying expenses, including expenses pursuant to section 194:E:3, II.

(b)  A scholarship organization may contract an organization to develop the payment system.

VII.  The scholarship organization may also seek to implement a system for parents to publicly rate, review, and share information about education service providers, ideally as part of the same system that facilitates the electronic or online funds transfers.

VIII.  If an education service provider requires partial payment of tuition or fees prior to the start of the academic year to reserve space for an EFA student admitted to the education service provider, such partial payment may be paid by the scholarship organization, if funds are available, prior to the start of the school year in which the EFA is awarded and deducted in an equitable manner from subsequent quarterly EFA deposits to ensure adequate funds remain available throughout the school year; but if an EFA student decides not to use the education service provider, the partial reservation payment shall be returned to the scholarship organization by such education service provider and credited to the student’s EFA.

IX.  The treasurer shall continue making deposits into a student’s EFA until notified by the scholarship organization that:

(a)  The scholarship organization determines that the EFA student is no longer an eligible student;

(b)  The scholarship organization determines that there was substantial misuse of the funds in the EFA;

(c)  The parent or EFA student withdraws from the EFA program;

(d)  The EFA student enrolls full-time in the resident district public school; or

(e)  The EFA student graduates from high school.

X.  The scholarship organization shall have the authority to conduct or contract for the auditing of individual EFAs, and shall at a minimum conduct random independent audits of EFAs on an annual basis.  The scholarship organization shall provide the department with copies of the audits.

XI.  The scholarship organization shall have the authority to make any parent or EFA student ineligible for the EFA program in the event of intentional and substantial misuse of EFA funds.

(a)  The scholarship organization shall create procedures to ensure that a fair process exists to determine whether an intentional and substantial misuse of EFA funds has occurred.

(b)  If an EFA student is free from personal misconduct, that student shall be eligible for an EFA in the future if placed with a new guardian or other person with the legal authority to act on behalf of the student.

(c)  The scholarship organization shall refer suspected cases of intentional and substantial misuse of EFA funds to the department and the attorney general for investigation if evidence of fraudulent use of EFA funds is determined.

(d)  A parent or EFA student may appeal the scholarship organization’s decision to make a parent or EFA student ineligible for the EFA program to the department.

XII.  The scholarship organization may bar an education service provider from accepting payments from EFAs if the scholarship organization determines that the education service provider has:

(a)  Intentionally and substantially misrepresented information or failed to refund any overpayments in a timely manner; or

(b)  Routinely failed to provide students with promised educational materials or services

XIII.  The scholarship organization shall create procedures to ensure that a fair process exists to determine whether an education service provider may be barred from receiving payments from EFAs.

(a)  If the scholarship organization bars an education service provider from receiving payments from EFAs, it shall notify parents and EFA students of its decision as quickly as possible.

(b)  Education service providers may appeal the scholarship organization’s decision to bar them from receiving payments from the EFA to the department.

XIV.  A scholarship organization may receive and expend gifts, grants, and donations of any kind from any public or private entity to carry out the purposes of this chapter.

XV.  The state board of education shall adopt rules, pursuant to RSA 541-A, relative to the EFA program.

XVI.  The scholarship organization may adopt policies or procedures that are necessary for the administration of this chapter.  This may include policies or procedures:

(a)  Requiring a surety bond for education service providers receiving more than $100,000 in EFA funds.

(b)  Refunding payments from education service providers back to EFAs.

XVII.  The scholarship organization shall not exclude, discriminate against, or otherwise disadvantage any education provider with respect to programs or services under this section based in whole or in part on the provider’s religious character or affiliation, including religiously based or mission-based policies or practices.

XVIII.  The scholarship organization and any contractors shall comply with all federal and state laws regarding student privacy.

XIX.  The scholarship organization shall provide an annual report to the speaker of the house of representatives, the president of the senate, the chairperson of the house education committee, the chairperson of the house finance committee, the chairperson of the senate education committee, the chairperson of the senate finance committee, the governor, the joint legislative oversight committee under RSA 194-E:6 and the commissioner of the department of education.  The report shall include:

(a)  The number of eligible students with accounts.

(b)  A list of nonpublic schools and educational service providers including the number of eligible students served per school and educational service provider.

(c)  The value of EFA funds utilized for services during the year by eligible expense category.

(d)  A survey of parents of eligible students with accounts.  The survey shall include, but not be limited to the number of years the parent has been in the program, the relative satisfaction of the parent with the program, and suggestions of the parent for improvement.

(e)  The value of funds spent on administrative expenses by the scholarship organization.

194:E-5  Parent and Education Service Provider Advisory Commission.

I.  The parent and education service provider advisory commission to assist the scholarship organization in providing recommendations on implementing, administering, and improving the EFA program is established.

II.(a)  The commission shall consist of 7 members, who shall be education service providers or parents of EFA students and represent no fewer than 6 counties in the state.  The 7 members shall be appointed by the director of the scholarship organization.

(b)  The members shall serve for one calendar year and may be reappointed.

(c)  The director of the scholarship organization, or designee, shall serve as the non- voting chairperson of the commission.

(d)  The commissioner of the department of education, or designee, who shall serve as a non-voting member of the commission.

(e)  The chairperson of the house finance committee.

(f)  The chairperson of the house education committee.

(g)  One member of the senate, appointed by the president of the senate.

(h)  One member of the state board of education, who shall serve as a non-voting member of the commission, appointed by the chairperson of the board.

III.  The scholarship organization may request the commission to meet, in person or virtually, to review appeals of education service provider denials and to provide a recommendation to the scholarship organization as to whether an education service provider should be allowed to receive, or continue receiving, payments from EFAs.

194:E-6  Requirements for Education Service Providers.

I.  The scholarship organization may approve education service providers on its own initiative, at the request of parents, or by notice to the scholarship organization provided by prospective education service providers.

II.  A prospective education service provider that wishes to receive payments from EFAs shall:

(a)  Submit notice to the scholarship organization that it wishes to receive payments from EFAs.

(b)  Agree not to refund, rebate, or share EFA funds with parents or EFA students in any manner, except that funds may be remitted or refunded to an EFA in accordance with procedures established by the scholarship organization.

194:E-7  Independence of Education Service Providers.

I.  Nothing in this chapter shall be deemed to limit the independence or autonomy of an education service provider or to make the actions of an education service provider the actions of the state government.

II.  Education service providers shall be given maximum freedom to provide for the educational needs of EFA students without governmental control.

III.  Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to expand the regulatory authority of the state, its officers, or any school district to impose any additional regulation of education service providers beyond those necessary to enforce the requirements of the EFA program.

IV.  An education service provider that accepts payment from an EFA pursuant to this chapter is not an agent of the state or federal government.

V.  No education service provider shall be required to alter its creed, practices, admissions policy or curriculum in order to accept payments from an EFA.

194:E-8  Responsibilities of Public Schools and School Districts.  A public school, or school district, that previously enrolled an EFA student shall provide a private school that is also an education service provider and that has enrolled an EFA student with a complete copy of the EFA student’s school records, in a timely manner, while complying with 20 U.S.C. section 1232g, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.

194-E:9  Legislative Oversight Committee.

I.  There is hereby established an education freedom savings account oversight commission.  The commission shall meet at least twice a year and shall monitor the implementation of this chapter and make recommendations for any legislative changes to the eduction freedom savings account program.  The members of the commission shall be:

(a)  Two members of the senate appointed by the president of the senate.

(b)  Three members of the house of representatives, one of whom shall be the chairperson of the house education committee, one of whom shall be the chairperson of the house finance committee, and one of whom shall be appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives.

(c)  The commissioner of the department of education, or designee.

(d)  The administrator or chief executive officer of the scholarship organization.

(e) One member of the state board of education appointed by the chairperson of the board.

II.  The commission shall submit a report on or before November 1 of each year to the general court including findings, recommendations, and any corrective or technical improvements that the education freedom account program may require.  The scholarship organization shall develop and implement a plan to be approved by the commission that addresses corrective and technical recommendations made by the oversight commission.

194:E-10  Legal Proceedings.

I.  In any legal proceeding challenging the application of this chapter to an education service provider, the state bears the burden of establishing that the law is necessary and does not impose any undue burden on the education service provider.

II.  No liability shall arise on the part of the scholarship organization or the state or of any public school or school district based on the award of or use of an EFA pursuant to this act.

III.  If any part of this chapter is challenged in a state court as violating either the state or federal constitutions, parents of EFA students and/or EFA students shall be permitted to intervene as of right in such lawsuit for the purposes of defending the EFA program’s constitutionality.  However, for the purposes of judicial administration, a court may require that all parents file a joint brief, as long as they are not required to join any brief filed on behalf of any named state defendant.

IV.  If any provision of this chapter or its application to any person or circumstances, is held invalid, such invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of this chapter which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this chapter are declared to be severable.

3  Effective Date.  This act shall take effect upon its passage.

 

LBA

21-0751

1/13/21

 

HB 20-FN-A-LOCAL- FISCAL NOTE

AS INTRODUCED

 

AN ACT establishing the Richard "Dick" Hinch education freedom account program.

 

FISCAL IMPACT:

The Office of Legislative Budget Assistant is unable to complete a fiscal note for this bill, as introduced, as it is awaiting information from the Department of Education.  When completed, the fiscal note will be forwarded to the House Clerk's Office.

 

AGENCIES CONTACTED:

Department of Education

 

 

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