Weekly Legislative Update: Senate begins working on state budget, DOE presents new Learn Everywhere rules

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It’s a quiet week at the State House this week as the Senate starts working on the state budget. Last week, the House passed a budget that boosts K-12 education funding by $164 million, freezes state university and college tuition, and provides millions of dollars for college scholarships (including the Governor’s Scholarship Program) and Running Start programs.

The Department of Education is working on rule revisions for the Learn Everywhere program, which the State Board is expected to vote on at their June meeting.

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State Budget

This week, the Senate Finance Committee begins their work on the budget. The Senate has the same general process as the House: state agencies and departments present their budget proposals, the Senate Finance Committee holds a public hearing, makes their amendments and then presents a recommendation to the full Senate. The Senate must then vote on the budget by June 6.

The Senate Finance Committee is meeting with state agencies over the next few days, and met with the Governor’s office on Tuesday. The budget passed by the House last week (read more here) was quite different than the one proposed by the Governor in February. The Governor has been vocal in his opposition to the House version, threatening to veto the budget and contacting state agencies asking them to prepare for a continuing resolution, reported the Union Leader

>“A budget that does not protect New Hampshire’s best interests will be vetoed,” writes Governor Sununu.

“In the event that I must take action to stop an irresponsible budget, I ask that you and your staff begin to make the necessary preparations for the possibility of a continuing resolution on the state budget at current funding levels.”

Neither version change the fundamental way that we fund our public schools, known as “base adequacy,” or the $3,636 per student that schools currently receive.

Instead, the Governor’s version used almost $100 million in 2017 and 2018 budget surpluses for special projects, like a Targeted School Building Aid fund (separate from the school building aid fund managed by the Department of Education) and charter school funding.

The House’s version created a capital gains tax for certain individuals and authorizes sports betting to restore stabilization grants in 2020, implement two new funding streams that would provide most towns with at least 5% more state funding for public education, and create an independent commission that would study the current formula that the state uses to fund public schools and make recommendations to make it better. Read more about it here.

Public hearings for the budget will likely be in early May.

Learn Everywhere

At the State Board of Education meeting on Thursday, the Department of Education released revised rules for the Learn Everywhere program. Learn Everywhere would allow students to take core academic and elective courses at nonprofit and private organizations, that districts would be required to accept and include in student transcripts.  

Districts have different graduation requirements, and local school boards determine what their students should know, the courses they should take, and the rigor of those programs for their own schools. Learn Everywhere programs would be approved by the State Board of Education, and companies would be required to show that their offerings would meet minimum academic requirements.

After two stakeholder meetings and a public hearing, the Department of Education made changes to the rules. The changes reflected concerns with grading, the number of credits that students would be able to earn outside of their public school’s requirements, access for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans, and others.

Reaching Higher NH will release a comprehensive overview of Thursday’s State Board meeting and the rule changes this week. Stay tuned.

This Week

On Tuesday, the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee will hold public hearings on the following bills:

  • HB 131, which establishes a commission on mental health education and behavioral health and wellness programs in schools
  • HB 570, establishing a commission to study career pathways from full-time service year programs to postsecondary education and employment opportunities in support of New Hampshire’s future workforce needs.

The Senate will also vote on the following bills on Thursday:

  • HB 171, which establishes a commission to study equal access and opportunity for students with disabilities to participate in cocurricular activities (Committee recommendation: Ought to pass with stamendment)
  • HB 357, which makes the money in the public school infrastructure fund nonlapsing. This means that schools that have started projects with the program’s fund will be able to finish them out and be reimbursed. The public school infrastructure fund was created in 2017 for school safety projects like enhanced security features.

The House will not meet this week, but the House Education Committee will hold executive sessions and vote on recommendations for the following bills on Thursday:

  • SB 276, known as the “Career Readiness Drive to 65 Act.” The bill would expand the state’s dual and concurrent enrollment program through programs like Running Start, and would allow high school students to earn career ready credentials in various professions, like IT, health care, manufacturing, and more.
  • SB 139, which establishes a committee to study options for lowering student loan debt
  • SB 82, which would provide breakfast to students that qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch
  • SB 142, which would require schools to provide feminine hygiene products in their bathrooms
  • SB 263, relative to anti-discrimination protection for students in public schools

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