Weekly Legislative Update: Marathon voting session, town meeting day, and budget hearings

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Last week, the House had a two-day marathon voting session where they voted on almost 20 bills. Among those passed, an amended version of HB 620. In it’s original language, HB 620 could have removed many of the rights and protections that the state has for special education students and their families. However, the Chairman of the education committee softened the bill after hearing from droves of parents, teachers, and community members. Proof positive that in NH, our voices matter. 

This upcoming week will be a quiet one–only one education-related bill is on the calendar. The Senate will vote on SB 193, a voucher bill (giving parents the ability to get 90% of the state grant to use towards private school tuition, homeschooling, and other expenses). This would be among the most extreme voucher programs in the country and most likely cost the state an additional $60 million a year. The bill is also missing critical details about how to actually implement such a massive program, which will lead to confusion at the local level, and likely increase local property taxes as well. Despite the bill’s cost and lack of details, it’s picking up steam and has a good chance of passing.

The House Finance Committee will also hold a public hearing on HB 1 and HB 2, the budget bills. This is a public hearing, so if you have concerns with any aspects of the budget, there will be an opportunity for you to speak. It begins at 3 p.m. in Representatives Hall (in the State House, where the Representatives meet to vote).

And, Town Meeting Day is on Tuesday–towns will decide on school boards, budgets, and other local issues. Some towns have already issued snow date due to the impending storm. Check with your town hall for more information so you don’t miss it!

House Votes

Last Wednesday (March 8), the House voted to:

  • Pass a code of ethics for educators (HB 210), which outlines their responsibilities, including the role of technology relating to students and the school community.
  • Pass HB 216, which requires schools provide suspended students with their school assignments for the time they’re away from school. It applies to suspensions that are 10 days in length or less.
  • Pass HB 226, which requires better reporting of the reading programs that districts create for non-proficient third grade readers. It would allow the state to create a hub of best practices to share with schools.
  • Pass HB 412, which would expand the pre-engineering curriculum from 6-12 to K-12.
  • Kill HB 293, which would have required mission statements for new charter schools to justify their purpose and state the unmet need they’re addressing in their community.
  • Kill HB 395, which would have given the Home Education Advisory Council the authority to make rules instead of the State Board of Education. The committee heard from a number of parents, homeschoolers, and even the HEAC itself, saying that the current process works well.
  • Kill HB 494, which would have limited applications to open a new charter school to only New Hampshire residents.
  • Pass HB 557, the “Croydon bill,” which allows districts to send students to private schools and pay tuition to those schools. It’s been a contentious bill–supporters say it expands school choice and parental control. But opponents say it could be unconstitutional (public funding of private schools) and have concerns with accountability, particularly since private schools aren’t required to participate in the annual assessments, which is one tool the state uses to make sure that schools are providing an adequate education.
  • Pass HB 620 with an amendment that, instead of preventing the State Board of Education from making rules (and potentially upending the rights of students with disabilities and their parents), they’re required to take into account how it will impact districts financially. Chairman Ladd said that the bill needs more work, so they’ll likely form a study committee over the summer.

This Week (March 13-18)

The House Finance Committee will have a few public hearings on Wednesday this week (no committee meetings on Tuesday for Town Meeting Day):

  • SB 8, the Senate’s version of the “Croydon bill.” It allows districts to send students to private schools if they don’t serve that specific grade in their district. (Note: SB 8 is much less detailed than its companion house bill, HB 557, for example HB 557 restricts eligible private schools to nonsectarian private schools.)
  • SB 45, which requires students take a civics course as a high school graduation requirement. Right now, civics can be included in history, geography, or other classes, but this bill would require students to take an entire half-year course dedicated to civics and government.
  • SB 43, requiring parental opt-in for nonacademic surveys. Under the bill, schools can’t give out surveys or questionnaires without a signed parental consent form. It excludes the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s Youth Behavior Risk Surveillance Survey (YRBSS), which is used to track behaviors like drug use and teen pregnancy, so programs and funding can be distributed effectively.
  • SB 44, prohibiting the Department of Education from requiring districts adopt the Common Core State Standards. It’s a bill that reiterates current policies of the DOE, as they don’t require them now.

This week, the Senate Education Committee won’t meet. But the Senate Finance Committee will hold a budget work session with the Department of Education on Thursday at 10 a.m.

Don’t forget to vote in your local elections! Towns across the state have school board positions, school-related budgets, and education-related warrant articles on their ballots.