Weekly Legislative Update: Senate passes bills that could substantially impact public education in New Hampshire

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The Senate was busy last week, voting on almost ten education-related bills. The chamber passed the “Croydon bill” and SB 193, a bill that creates education freedom savings accounts. Neither have received a lot of attention, but can dramatically change how public education works in New Hampshire. Both bills allow districts and parents to redirect public taxpayer money to private (and religious) schools. Opponents of the bills fear that the expansion of the programs could draw as much as $80 million from the state’s public education fund, which is already strained.

The House had a quiet week, but the Education Committee retained a bill that would have created an independent authorizer to approve charter school applications.  This week will be a quiet one, too: no chamber voting, and nothing on the committee’s docket. Check out the full rundown on the week’s activities:

In the Senate

  • They passed SB 193, which creates “education freedom savings accounts” for students. Under the bill, a parent would be able to receive 90% of the per-student state funding amount (that would normally go to the student’s school) as a scholarship to use for private schooling, home schooling, tutoring, and other education-related expenses. Supporters of ESAs say they encourage parental control, but those who oppose them think that they would violate the NH Constitution and would create a voucher system. Senator David Watters says it could draw as much as $80 million from the state’s education fund. Senator Jeb Bradley says it’s “in the best interest of our kids.” Now it moves to the Senate Finance Committee.
  • They passed SB 8, also known as the “Croydon bill,” and allows districts to send students to schools of their choice –even if they’re private. The bill stemmed out of a legal battle between the Croydon School District and the Department of Education. Right now, Croydon pays tuition to a private Montessori school for six of its students. The state argues that public taxpayer dollars can’t go to private institutions for a myriad of reasons, including issues with accountability.
  • They passed and immediately tabled SB 191, which would have fully funded full-day kindergarten programs. Right now, all kindergartners are counted as 50% of the adequacy aid formula, even if they attend a full day of school. The bill would change that to 100% for the students that attend full-day programs–but it does not mandate full-day kindergarten. Governor Sununu prioritized full-day kindergarten funding in his budget address, but the funding would target the state’s neediest communities. It’s in the same limbo as SB 105–it won’t go any further unless the Senate votes to move it forward.
  • They killed SB 192, which lifted the moratorium on school building aid. The bill would have put $50 million per year into the fund for school repair and building projects, which has been put on hold for almost 10 years. Schools throughout the state have renovation projects in limbo that amount to almost $600 million, but now, they’ll have to wait or pay for it on their own.
  • They passed SB 45, which makes a civics course a high school graduation requirement. Now, it moves to the House.
  • They passed and immediately tabled SB 105, which made a $2.5 million appropriation to replace the heat and hot water systems in Concord schools. The original bill would have added “heat and hot water systems” as a qualifier for emergency school building aid, but the Committee narrowed the scope of the bill. Tabling the bill means that it won’t go any further unless the Senate votes to move it forward.

In the House

The House didn’t meet, but the House Education Committee voted on several charter bills.

  • Voted ITL: HB 494, which would require applicants hoping to open a charter school to be New Hampshire residents. The opposition argued that it would prevent otherwise qualified organizations, including universities, from opening charters here. Supporters of the bill said it would keep New Hampshire’s charter schools home-grown and would help deter out-of-state organizations from complicating the charter system as they’ve done in other states.
  • Voted ITL: HB 341, which repeals the property tax credit for charter schools.
  • Retained: HB 505, which establishes an independent commission to approve applications for new charter schools. Now, the committee will hold the bill–it won’t go to the full House for a vote.

Next Week

It’s a quiet week this upcoming week–neither chamber will meet to vote on bills, and there’s nothing on either committee’s docket. But next week, the Senate Education Committee will hold several public hearings on crossover bills. Mark your calendars if you want to testify or follow us on Twitter to follow our live-tweeting of these hearings:

  • HB 103, which requires school districts to provide a 2-week notice before teaching or talking about “questionable” content, i.e., sexual education. A similar bill passed both chambers last session but was vetoed by Governor Hassan, so it’s likely this will pass through the Senate easily.
  • HB 166, which allows districts to use locally developed assessments in lieu of standardized tests in several grades. Right now, students in third through eighth grade take the Smarter Balanced Assessment each year, but the bill would reduce that number to once in elementary school and once in middle school. Students take the SAT in high school now in lieu of the SBA, and that wouldn’t change. It sailed through the House on the consent calendar, and it’s expected to do the same in the Senate.
  • HB 275, which prohibits students’ statewide assessment results in their transcripts without written consent. This bill was on the House’s consent calendar too, so it’s likely to pass easily in the Senate.

Most districts have school vacation next week–enjoy it! If you’re going somewhere warm, we’re jealous–and ask you to bring us back some sunshine.