Education at the State House: Legislative Update for February 4

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Last week was a busy one at the state’s capitol. The House had it’s first session of the year (the Senate meets for the first time on Thursday), and Frank Edelblut had his confirmation hearing. Here’s a rundown of what happened and a preview at the week ahead:

Nomination of Frank Edelblut as Education Commissioner

  • Former State Rep and businessman Frank Edelblut had his confirmation hearing in front of the Executive Council. Mr. Edelblut was nominated as the Commissioner of the Department of Education by Governor Sununu. Droves of people came to support or oppose him–get the full coverage here.
  • The Executive Council delayed a vote to confirm Mr. Edelblut’s nomination. Councilors were concerned that Governor Sununu did not consult with the State Board of Education about the nomination, which is required by state law. The vote was rescheduled for mid-February, but three of the councilors have already said that they will vote in favor of Mr. Edelblut.
    • UPDATE: Governor Sununu is scheduled to attend Thursday’s SBOE meeting to formally present his nomination of Mr. Edelblut to the board. We’ll be live tweeting it and streaming it on Facebook–be sure to tune in starting at 9 a.m.

Assessment

  • The House passed HB 166, a bill that minimizes the frequency of end-of-the-year standardized tests. Right now, state and federal laws require children in grades 3-8 to take a standardized test every year (NH uses the Smarter Balanced Assessment). HB 166 would reduce that to just two–once in elementary school and once in middle school. Schools would choose their own ways to measure student progress in the off-years. Several districts are already doing it–PACE (Performance Assessment of Competency Education) districts work together to create assessments that are given throughout the year. The districts collaborate so that assessments are valid and reliable, and results can be compared across districts in the same way that the Smarter Balanced results are. Additionally, students are solving real problems through projects like this one–no bubble sheet testing! Check out the video on PACE here.
  • The House passed HB 276, which allows parents to opt their children out of the statewide assessment without penalty. Opponents say that it could jeopardize federal funding (they require 95% participation rates) and undercut the efficacy of the assessment. Supporters say that it should be a parent’s choice and the government has never penalized districts or states for low participation.

Charters

  • The House killed HB 113, which would have allowed the state to deny an application to open a charter school based solely on the availability of the state’s ability to fund the school.
  • The House also killed HB 147, which would have required charter schools to comply to the same laws that govern traditional public schools. Bill sponsor Tim Horrigan (Straff-06) said that it would largely apply to things like building codes.
  • And, the House killed HB 148, which would have required charter school teachers to hold a valid New Hampshire teaching license.

Funding

  • The House killed two almost-identical bills to repeal the education tax credit. HB 129 and HB 297 were different only in enactment date, and the House rejected both of them. The education tax credit program allows businesses to deduct up to 85% of donations to the state’s scholarship program, which is run by two separate nonprofits. Scholarships go to students that attend private schools (including religious schools) or are homeschooled. Check out our policy brief about the education tax credit here.

 

Coming up this week

Neither the Senate nor the House will vote on any education-related bills, but they’ll hold plenty of hearings. It’s a big week in the House Education Committee for education funding, where they’re set to vote on five bills on Tuesday, February 7, including the bill that reinstates stabilization grants.

Hearings (Open to the public)

  • SB 105, providing emergency building aid to schools that need heat or hot water replacements, on Tuesday at 9 a.m. in LOB 103.
  • SB 191, funding full-day kindergarten for districts that offer full-day programs, on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in LOB 103.
  • SB 192, reinstating school building aid, on Tuesday at 10 a.m. in LOB 103. The bill would lift the moratorium on school building aid, fund previously approved projects, and provide close to $20 million for new projects in FY 2018 and FY 2019.
  • SB 193, establishing education freedom savings accounts, on Tuesday, February 7 at 10:30 a.m. in LOB 103: Currently, the state provides “adequate education grants” to districts to fund schools–about $3,500 per student. SB 193 would require the state to put 90% of that grant into a scholarship savings account at a parent’s request, which the parent can use for tuition for a private or charter school, tutor, transportation to school, or a number of other education-related expenses.
  • HB 647, establishing education freedom savings accounts for students with disabilities, on Tuesday, February 7 at 11 a.m. in LOB 207: Similar to SB 193, but only applies to children with disabilities.

Executive Sessions (Committee votes on bill)

  • The House Ed Committee will vote on five funding bills on Tuesday, including HB 597 (increasing the funding for education for poorer towns) , HB 354 (awarding aid to towns that were hurt by the adequacy cap last year), HB 356 (increasing the per-student aid amount), and HB 525 (reinstating the full amount of stabilization grants).
  • On Wednesday, the House Ed Committee will vote on ten bills, including HB 647 (establishing education savings accounts for children with disabilities) and HB 155 (fully funding full-day kindergarten programs).

Follow us on Twitter #NHpolitics for our live coverage of hearings, executive sessions, and full chamber voting (@ReachHigherNH). Check in on Fridays for more legislative updates!