Weekly Legislative Update: House passes anti-discrimination bill; has stalemate over school nurse certification; schedules first of budget hearings

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Representative Linda Tanner speaking in support of HB 383 in front of the House of Representatives.

This week, the House passed a bill that would prohibit discrimination in private schools that contract with school districts and is holding onto a bill that would remove certain certification requirements for school nurses. The House Finance Committee also scheduled the first of the public hearings on the state budget for Monday, March 11.

Tuesday, March 12 is town meeting day! Don’t forget to vote… Local elections matter! Interested in learning more about what a school board member does, or the responsibilities of a budget committee? Learn more with our school board fact sheet and municipal budget committee fact sheet!

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State Budget

The House Finance Committee has scheduled three public hearings on the state budget:

Monday, March 11 at 5 PM at Lakes Region Community College in Laconia
Monday, March 11 at 5 PM at the Boys and Girls Club of Souhegan Valley in Milford ​
​Monday, March 18 at 1 PM at the State House

Budget hearings give New Hampshire residents the opportunity to tell the committee what is important to them and what they should consider when crafting the budget. Governor Sununu released his proposed budget, which included a one-time school building aid fund and more funding for charter schools and special education.

The House Finance Committee will be working on the budget for the next month, and will have to send a full recommendation to the House for a vote by early April.

Anti-Discrimination

The House passed HB 383, which would require private schools that accept public funds to comply with state anti-discrimination laws. The bill also extends anti-discrimination protections to students on the basis of religion, physical or mental disability, and gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate.

Districts across the state contract with private schools in and around New Hampshire. As a result of SB 8, known as the “Croydon bill,” school districts can send students to private, non-religious schools if they do not offer public schools in their own districts.

Student Health

The House couldn’t come to an agreement on HB 275, which removes certification requirements for school nurses. Under existing law, school nurses must have a bachelor’s degree and 3 years of experience in pediatric nursing or a similar area, demonstrate the ability to work with students, parents, and teachers, and demonstrate their ability to work in a school setting. HB 275 removes those requirements and allows schools to hire professional nurses. The committee was split 10-10 on whether or not to recommend the bill for passage, and the House laid the bill on the table.

Learn Everywhere

The Senate passed SB 140, which would reaffirm local school districts’ role in authorizing programs that give academic credit, easily on a voice vote. The bill removes the State Board’s authority to create rules on alternative programs that was given to them in 2018 and would stop the proposed “Learn Everywhere” program. The bill will now head to the House.

According to Senator Jay Kahn, the bill’s prime sponsor, SB 140 clarifies that the approval of all academic programs remains with the local school district and the district’s role in approving curriculum.

The proposed “Learn Everywhere” rules would require school districts to grant academic credits for out-of-school activities as long as they received a license from the State Board of Education. Students could receive academic credit for programs from private and nonprofit organizations like Big Fish Learning Academy, the Girl Scouts, and extracurricular activities like gymnastics programs. Read more about the Learn Everywhere program and how it compares with existing opportunities for our students here.

Education Funding

Key education funding bills are now in the House Finance Committee, where the Division II subcommittee is working on them: HB 709, HB 551, and HB 713.

HB 709 fully restores stabilization grants to 2016 levels next year and replaces them with two new aid programs in 2021. Fiscal Capacity Disparity Aid would aid towns with the lowest capacity to raise revenue through property taxes (“property-poor communities”), and a separate funding stream for districts with higher concentrations of poverty.

HB 551 creates an independent commission of legislators and selected members of the public to study the current funding formula and make recommendations. HB 713 requires districts to provide transportation for kindergarteners who live more than 2 miles from school.

House Finance is also working on HB 686, which increases the base per-student funding (known as “base adequacy”), restores stabilization grants to their original levels, and reduces the statewide education property tax (SWEPT) rate by 25%. The bill also extends the current 5% Interest and Dividends Tax to capital gains income.

Whereas HB 709 originated out of the House Education Committee, HB 686 originated from the Ways and Means committee. Both passed the House last week, and House Finance is working on both proposals.

This week, the Senate acted on important education funding bills in their chamber:

  • SB 265, which would fully restore stabilization grants to 2012 levels in 2020. Laid on the table
  • SB 280, which would allow school districts to contract with private, religious schools and would change the amount of the statewide education property tax (SWEPT). Laid on the table
  • SB 309, which would recalculate stabilization grants. Currently, stabilization grants were awarded as the difference between the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years (due to the funding formula change, most districts received less money in 2012 than in 2011, and were awarded a stabilization grant to make up for the difference). The bill would remove that, and award a stabilization grant equal to the difference in state funding from 2019 to 2020. Passed, heads to Senate Finance Committee.

Student Discipline

The Senate rereferred SB 302 to the Education and Workforce Development Committee, where it will return for more study. The bill would limit the time a student may be suspended from school to 5 days (the school board may extend the suspension for up to 10 additional days) and clarifies the behaviors that must be considered prior to a suspension or expulsion.

Under the proposal, school boards would be required to provide a behavioral assessment for students suspended for more than 5 days, among other requirements. While some districts already have these requirements, the Department of Education does not have information on student discipline beyond federal reporting requirements or on the number of districts that utilize behavioral specialists or use positive behavior intervention practices, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The bill would also require school districts to adopt a formal policy regarding school discipline that would outline the specific bases for which a student would be considered for short- or long-term suspension or expulsion.

Next Week

Town meeting day is Tuesday, March 12! Don’t forget to vote! There are so many elections, especially local ones, that are decided by only a handful of votes. Make sure your voice is heard! For more information about your local election, contact your town clerk. Find out who your town clerk is here.

  • On Tuesday, March 12, the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee will hold a public hearing on SB 267, which would allow testing companies to collect student names and identifiers in order to track individual student learning and growth between grades.
  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee will hold an executive session on the following bills: HB 493, which would allow a cooperative school district to adopt a local tax cap; HB 489, which clarifies the district’s responsibilities in responding to a request for a student to be considered for a manifest educational hardship; HB 375, which extends some of the requirements of public schools to charter schools, including parental notification of health and sex education, and dissemination of non academic surveys, formal policies regarding school resource officers; HB 411, which would require cooperative school districts to apportion costs based on equalized valuation of the towns. Currently, cooperative school districts can create their own formulas based on equalized valuation and the number of students from each town.
  • On Wednesday, the House Finance Committee will hold an executive session on the following bills: HB 184, which provides the full amount of state funding for full-day kindergarten students, and would treat Keno revenues as regular lottery revenues (putting them directly into the Education Trust Fund); HB 734, which freezes the annual 4% reductions in stabilization grants for 2020 and 2021 and holds them at 2019 rates (88%); HB 713, which would require districts to provide transportation to students in kindergarten through grade 8 who live more than 2 miles from school; HB 357, which extends the deadlines for the public school infrastructure fund.
  • On Wednesday, there will be a House Finance Division II work session on the following bills: HB 551, which establishes an independent commission of legislators and selected members of the public to study the current funding formula and make recommendations; HB 709, which fully restores stabilization grants to 2016 levels next year and replaces them with two new aid programs in 2021. Fiscal Capacity Disparity Aid would aid towns with the lowest capacity to raise revenue through property taxes (“property-poor communities”), and a separate funding stream for districts with higher concentrations of poverty; HB 686, which increases the base per-student funding (known as “base adequacy”), restores stabilization grants to their original levels, and reduces the statewide education property tax (SWEPT) rate by 25%. The bill also extends the current 5% Interest and Dividends Tax to capital gains income; and HB 177, which restores stabilization grants to 2016 levels.
  • On Wednesday, March 13, the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold a public hearing on SB 318, which extends the education tax credit program to public schools and workforce development programs. Under the bill, individuals and businesses could receive a tax credit for donations to public schools (currently, businesses can only receive tax credits for donations to organizations that provide scholarships to private and religious schools).
  • On Thursday, the State Board of Education will hold their monthly meeting. The agenda for the meeting will be available here. Reaching Higher NH will be livestreaming the meeting–be sure to follow us on Facebook to tune in!
  • On Thursday, the House will vote on HB 676, which would repeal the statewide education property tax. The bill would take $363 million from the general fund in lieu of the property tax. The Ways and Means committee recommended against passing the bill by a vote of 16 to 1.
  • On Thursday, the Senate will vote on the following bills: SB 199, which would require teachers to have training in suicide and bullying awareness and prevention (Committee does not recommend passing the bill); SB 266, which would provide districts with the full adequacy amount for kindergarten students (currently, kindergartners are counted as ½ of a student, even if they attend a full-day program) and would transfer Keno revenues to the school building aid fund (Committee recommendation: Ought to Pass); SB 277, which provides additional funding for charter schools (Committee recommendation: Ought to pass); SB 282, which requires districts and charter schools to develop a policy for preventing and responding to student suicide (Committee recommendation: Ought to pass); and SB 270, which allows businesses to receive a tax credit for donations to career and technical education centers (Committee recommendation: Ought to pass).

Have questions? Email us at staff@reachinghighernh.org and we will forward it to the appropriate team member!