|In this week’s NH Education News Brief: Dozens testify in second day of school voucher bill hearing; Funds earmarked for vouchers could address pressing educational needs; Governor’s budget presented; and education bill aims to fill pandemic-related funding gaps. |
Turnout high for day two of school voucher bill hearing — The continuation of a public hearing on HB 20, the school voucher bill that would give taxpayer funds to families to pay for private school and homeschool expenses, drew another crowd last week, with opposition outweighing support by a margin of 5 to 1. The House Education Committee heard from 38 members of the public, with supporters of the bill emphasizing the need for alternatives to one-size-fits-all education and opponents raising concerns over the bill’s lack of accountability and effect on public school funding. Altogether, 5,218 people signed on in opposition to the bill and 1,107 signed on in support over the course of the two-part hearing. The House Education Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill on Wednesday, February 17. After their vote, the bill will go to the full House floor, likely next week.
State payout to private schools could instead address critical needs — Reaching Higher’s analysis of HB 20 finds that the program could cost the state up to $100 million in the first year alone if all students currently attending private school or homeschooling took advantage of vouchers. For the same amount of money, lawmakers could provide significant taxpayer relief, place an additional mental health counselor in every school, fund building aid requests for the coming biennium, or help career and technical centers expand programming.
Governor’s budget includes infrastructure funds, makes up for lunch program waiver — Governor Chris Sununu released his proposed budget for the 2022-2023 biennium, on Thursday, Feb. 11. The “trailer bill” that includes the specific details is due this week, but according to his address, the proposal includes $30 million for the Public School Infrastructure Fund (PSIF), a fund created in 2017 that can be used for safety projects and to fix structural problems that create a “clear and imminent danger.” The PSIF does not fund school building aid projects.
The proposal also taps into federal funding to recoup the roughly $19 million drop in school funding due to a paperwork waiver from the US Department of Agriculture. Since one part of the state’s formula for public school funding depends on the paperwork for Free and Reduced-Price Lunch, schools were expecting a 25% drop in FRL aid. However, the proposed budget would hold that funding steady “through the duration of the public health emergency.”
About $19 million of the $89 million expected drop in funding is due to the paperwork waiver; $58 million is due to the expiration of one-time, targeted funding, and the remaining $12 million is due to reduced enrollment largely because of the pandemic. Sununu’s budget proposal does not include hold harmless funding for the latter two factors. The “trailer bill” which outlines the specifics of the bill is expected this week. Once the bill is introduced, it will go to the House Finance Committee, where we expect them to hold a series of public hearings through March.
Educators ask for stopgap funding measures — The House Finance Committee heard testimony last week on House Bill 623, which would help stabilize school funding by ensuring that education grants to schools in the coming biennium cannot be less than grants in FY 2021. Schools are facing a loss of $89 million in state aid due to decreases in enrollment, the expiration of one-time, targeted aid, and a waiver to the federal lunch program requirements on which differentiated aid is based. Several educators testified in favor of the bill. “We are on the front lines of watching our community be pitted against each other,” said Lindseigh Picard, a member of the Winchester School Board.
Bill would curb authority of school resource officers — A bill presented to the Senate Education Committee last week seeks to define the ways that school resource officers can handle matters of student discipline. Sponsored by Rep. Becky Whitley (D-Concord), the bill would limit the use of questioning and searches and prohibit arrests on school grounds except under specific circumstances. It would also require schools and police departments to adopt a mutual set of standards delineating authority. Supporters of the bill said it would increase transparency and reduce civil rights violations. Opponents said that it was too restrictive and removes local control.
THIS WEEK AT THE (VIRTUAL) STATE HOUSE
Tuesday, February 16
House Education Committee
- Executive Session: 9:00 a.m. on HB 607-FN, establishing local education savings accounts for students.
- Public Hearing: 12:30 p.m. on HB 608-FN-A-L, relative to the formula for determining funding for an adequate education.
- Executive Session: 10:30 a.m. on HB 623, which would preserve education funding at FY2021 levels for FY2022 and FY2023.
Senate Education & Workforce Development
- Public Hearing: 9:00 a.m. SB 145, relative to a temporary change in the formula for school funding, which would use the higher ADM of 2021 and 2022 to calculate the adequate education grant for FY2022, and would extend the Fiscal Capacity Disparity Aid through 2022.
- Public Hearing: 9:15 a.m. SB 158, relative to the formula for funding an adequate education, adopting the goals of the Commission to Study School Funding, which would target state funding to vulnerable communities and expand the Low and Moderate Income Homeowners Property Tax Relief program.
Wednesday, February 17
House Education Committee
- Executive Session: 9:30 a.m. HB 20, establishing the Richard “Dick” Hinch education freedom account program (the statewide voucher program); HB 594, relative to the school building aid program; HB 608, relative to the formula for determining funding for an adequate education.
House Ways and Means Committee
- Public Hearing: 1:30 p.m. on HB 504-FN-L, relative to the state education property tax and the low and moderate income homeowners property tax relief program.
Thursday, February 18
House Education Committee
- Executive Session: 9:00 a.m. HB 110, relative to the distribution of adequate education grants; HB 323, relative to a statewide student assessment report; HB 442, relative to penalties for a school’s failure to file department of education reports; HB 278, relative to the use of unused district facilities by chartered public schools.
Senate Education and Workforce Development
- Public Hearing: 1:30 p.m. on SB 148, adopting omnibus legislation relative to vocational and career education, environmental education, and emergency plans for sports injuries. This includes the bill that would state that “New Hampshire students have the right to a career and technical education,” expands the current Dual and Concurrent Enrollment program, which provides scholarships for students to take DCE programs, to include CTE courses, authorizes the NHDOE to reimburse the full cost of transportation expenses to and from CTE centers, and adds rulemaking authority by the DOE establishing requirements for a “Career Readiness Credential.” .
Senate Session: The full Senate will meet to vote on SB 135, which would require the state to use the greater ADM numbers from 2021 or 2022 to calculate the adequate education grant for FY 2022, effectively holding districts harmless for reduced enrollment due to the pandemic. Committee vote: Ought to Pass, 7-0
WHAT WE’RE READING
Keene Sentinel Editorial: Gutting education; Latest school voucher bill is the most ambitious, and worst, yet
Keene Sentinel Editorial Board, February 13, 2021
Nine Strategies for Promoting Student Engagement
Education Week, Larry Ferlazzo, Feb. 7, 2021
Rhode Island Kept Its Schools Open. This is What Happened.
New York Times Magazine, Susan Dominus, Feb. 10, 2021
Advocates hope pandemic shift away from requiring SAT and ACT will help diversity
The Hechinger Report, Alina Tugend, Jan. 27, 2021
10 Ideas for Teaching Black History Month, Anti-Defamation League
Black History Month Resources for Educators and Families, Center for Racial Justice in Education