Gov. Chris Sununu announced Tuesday he would direct $1.5 million in federal money that came to New Hampshire as part of the CARES Act federal relief package to organizations that give scholarships to private elementary, middle and high schools.
Sununu presented the private-school scholarships as part of a raft of items to help minorities, immigrants and refugees.
Manchester entrepreneur and community advocate Deo Mwano penned a letter to Sununu on July 3 about the difficulty immigrant- and minority-owned businesses have had accessing coronavirus relief funds, from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to the state Main Street Relief Fund.
“These gaps and the resulting damage harm the potential for success of New Hampshire’s black, brown and new immigrant communities,” the letter reads.
Mwano wrote that small minority-owned businesses cannot always afford memberships in organizations like local Chambers of Commerce that helped other businesses navigate relief programs, and some never heard about the $400 million Main Street Relief Fund for businesses.
In the letter, Mwano suggested help for minority-owned businesses that did not apply for the Main Street Relief Fund, money for organizations that work with immigrant and refugee communities, funds to help students learning English for the first time, and scholarships for students of color.
The letter also recommended a cabinet-level position charged with addressing systemic inequality. Other community advocates co-signed the letter, including Eva Castillo of Welcoming New Hampshire and JerriAnne Boggis of the Black Heritage Trail of N.H., as did several business owners.
In response to the letter, Sununu announced funding for refugee resettlement organizations, groups that serve people learning English, community-based COVID-19 testing services and “inner-city business coalitions,” along with the scholarships to private school.
The $1.5 million in scholarships to private schools Sununu announced Tuesday will be administered by the same nonprofit organizations that administer a program where people can make donations to fund private-school scholarships in exchange for a tax credit.
According to one of those organizations, the Giving Going Alliance, just over $1 million in scholarships has sent 443 children to private school since 2015.
The other, the Children’s Scholarship Fund of New Hampshire, says 934 children have received over $2.8 million in scholarships.
Sununu said about 22% of the scholarships given through these organizations go to children who are not white. More than 15.7% of children in New Hampshire public schools who do not identify as white, according to Department of Education data.
If that trend were to continue, about 176 of the 800 private-school scholarships would go to children who are not white, or about $330,000 of the $1.5 million Sununu allocated. The governor said the scholarships were not specifically earmarked for students of color.
Americans for Prosperity’s New Hampshire chapter cheered the announcement of private-school scholarships.
“This pandemic has shown our current, one-size fits all education system needs to be more flexible and innovative to meet the education needs of Granite State students and families,” AFP-NH Deputy Director of Grassroots Operations Sarah Scott said in a statement. “This influx of funds to the Education Tax Credit Program will empower our students to seek an educational experience that works for them.”
State Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, who is running in the Democratic primary for governor, called for Sununu to use money for education on masks and gloves, cleaning supplies and renovations to help public schools reopen more safely.
“Sununu is sending your tax dollars to private schools while he is leaving public school teachers and families all on their own,” Feltes said in a statement.
The Union Leader did not receive a response from the campaign of Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, running against Feltes in the Democratic primary for governor.
COVID-19 fears mean few public schools are embracing a full return to in-person classes this fall, and there are some indications that more parents are looking at private school for the 2020-21 school year. Catholic schools operated by the Diocese of Manchester already reported an uptick in enrollment after they announced they would hold in-person classes this fall.
Sununu also announced up to an $8 million addition to the UNIQUE college-scholarship program for low-income students who live in New Hampshire and plan to attend an in-state public college. Sununu’s action raises the $800 scholarship to $1,000, and provides funding for 3,000 more scholarships.