NH Education Roundup, Oct. 13, 2020

This week in Education News: October 13, 2020

In this issue of Reaching Higher NH’s Education News Brief: The Joint Legislative Education Committee hears educators’ concerns; a group of high school students speaks to the School Funding Commission; the State Board of Education discusses remote learning rules; and small vacation towns see an uptick in enrollment.

Educators Express Funding Frustrations to Education Committee — A panel of school superintendents, principals, school board members, and other educators presented to the Joint Legislative Education Committee on Wednesday, Oct. 7, describing a variety of pandemic-related challenges they’ve faced since schools reopened. Among their chief concerns were insufficient CARES Act funding to cover pandemic-related expenses, declines in enrollment that could affect adequacy funding, substitute teacher shortages, and back orders in technology and personal protective equipment. 

Students Speak Up on School Funding — The Commission to Study School Funding heard testimony from several current and recent high school students, including a group of English Language Learners from Manchester West High School at its Youth Voice Public Comment period on Wednesday, Oct. 7. The students, led by ELL teacher Liz Kirwan, prepared statements sharing their experiences at the school and requesting more funding for resources, staff, sports, and food service. 

“Sometimes when I hear about other schools I feel like crying,” a student named Samuel, who came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo, wrote in a statement, which was read aloud to the Commission. “I’m asking the School Funding Commission to help fund our schools.” 

State Board of Education Discusses Remote Learning Rules, Enrollment Loss — Acknowledging that remote instruction will be a common feature of public schools for the foreseeable future, the State Board of Education debated how best to craft rules for the new learning mode at its meeting on Thursday, Oct. 8. One option is to make remote learning a subset of distance education, for which rules already exist. In discussing possible approaches, board members expressed caution about being too prescriptive. “I want to be very careful about mandating school districts,” said Board Member Helen Honorow. The Board plans to draft rules and invite public input at its November meeting and vote on a final proposal in December. 

The Board discussed a variety of other topics as well. Board Chair Drew Cline expressed concern about the number of families withdrawing their children from public schools. “We may see kids leaving and not coming back,” he said. “Some of these districts are going to lose hundreds of kids this fall.” 

Board member Cindy Chagnon reported that in spite of the difficulties schools are facing, she’s heard positive comments from many parents in her community. “I just want to give kudos to Manchester and many, many districts,” she said. 

Reaching Higher Provides DOE Input on New Partnership — On October 5, 2020, the NH Department of Education (DOE) announced a new partnership with Modern States, offering free college credits to students who enroll in Modern States courses and then pass the College Board’s corresponding CLEP Exam.

Reaching Higher NH submitted public comment testimony for the NH State Board of Education’s meeting on October 8, posing questions about the process, data, and equitable access to this opportunity.

“How will the Department ensure equity for all students– for example, what will be the process to ensure that students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch have equitable access to this program? For students who receive special education services? For students who live in areas of the state that are quite a distance from a testing center?” wrote Liz Canada, Reaching Higher’s Director of Policy & Practice.

Vacation Towns Make Room for New Students — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect schools nationwide, some small NH towns have seen leaps in enrollment. That’s good news for schools struggling with low numbers, but it can create its own set of challenges. 

Commission to Study School Funding Approves an Outcomes-based Model — At its Monday, Oct. 5, meeting, the Commission to Study School Funding informally adopted the outcomes-based model proposed by American Institutes for Research, following a debate about the merits of the model as opposed to the current inputs-based model. The Commission, which was formed during the 2019 Legislative session, is nearing its Dec. 1 deadline to create recommendations for the 2021 Legislative session. The decision means an outcomes-based model — which uses a combination of attendance rates, graduation rates, and test scores —  is likely to be part of those recommendations.