Commentary

NH budget brings school choice, emergency power reform in stark contrast to Maine

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The Granite State passed a new budget last week that should have people in the Pine Tree State jealous of what their neighbors accomplished in comparison to their own lawmakers.

HB 2, signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu last Friday, is a $13.5 billion budget that is more than just a spending plan. The budget brings school choice and meaningful emergency power reform to the state of New Hampshire.

The budget establishes Education Freedom Accounts (EFA), similar to Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) in other states, which are grants given to students who choose not to attend their district’s public school. It is an expansion of the already existing school choice program in New Hampshire.

The new plan allows families up to three times the federal poverty level to access the grants and use them for tuition, online schooling and even materials like uniforms and educational software. 

As illustrated in the graph above from a 2018 EdChoice poll, the majority of Granite Staters support ESAs, and support has only increased since then.

The state’s Department of Education estimates that the new measure will save the state roughly $360 million to $393 million over the next 10 years.

The annual grants would range from $3,700 to $9,000, and they come at a time when New Hampshire currently spends roughly $3,800 per student.

Also in the bill were three significant emergency power reform measures. The first requires the governor to notify the legislature of any impending emergency orders “as soon as practicable,” thus ensuring the legislature is informed before any emergency order is issued.

The second change gives the legislature the power to end any emergency order issued by the governor. Under current law, the legislature can vote to end a state of emergency, and the governor cannot reissue another emergency declaration under the same reasoning as the one voted down by lawmakers.

The legislature could not, however, rescind a particular emergency order issued by the governor. The change implemented through the budget last Friday reverses that.

The final emergency power reform measure in the bill requires the governor to call a legislative session 90 days into an emergency, and then again every 90 days thereafter, for a legislative concurrence vote. At each session, the legislature must vote on whether to keep the state of emergency or end it. The session requirement effectively forces a legislative vote on a state of emergency every 90 days, giving the people an avenue to petition their government if they disagree with their chief executive’s emergency declaration.

These provisions baked into New Hampshire’s budget are some of the most prominent and significant changes brought in the bill, and they are miles better than what the Maine Legislature came up with this session.

Our lawmakers have failed to act on both school choice and emergency power reform this session, while prioritizing restrictive laws like a flavored tobacco ban, regulating 400 profane license plates and another that would enable the government seizure of private utility companies through eminent domain.

On top of that, they have failed to act on rather crucial measures, like electing our constitutional officers and establishing a commission to review the state’s pandemic response.

Such a stark contrast to our neighboring state and the action taken by its lawmakers should serve as a wakeup call to Maine. Hopefully, one day, our legislature can be as effective as the Granite State’s.

About Nick Linder

Nicholas Linder, of Cincinnati, is a communications Intern for Maine Policy Institute. He is going into his second year of studying finance and public policy analysis at The Ohio State University. On campus, he is involved with Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations and Business for Good.

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