HB 620 and its impact on special education services in New Hampshire

On Thursday, March 8th, or Friday, March 9, New Hampshire’s House of Representatives will vote on a bill that could swiftly and negatively impact New Hampshire’s children, especially those receiving special education services. 

As it was written and amended, HB 620 significantly restricts the ability of the State Board of Education to propose rules that exceed the minimum requirements of state or federal law. The intent of the bill is to prevent unfunded mandates (preventing the state from downshifting costs to local districts); however, the actual impact of the bill goes much deeper than that.

Current rules guarantee a number of rights and protections of students with disabilities and their parents, but the rules would be in jeopardy if the bill passes.

Why is this important?

The State Board of Education provides guidance to schools and clarification of laws in the form of “rules”.  New Hampshire law states that all children are to be provided with equal educational opportunities–and it ensures that all children with disabilities are afforded a free, appropriate public education.

But state and federal laws often leave out key details on how they should be implemented. This is where the rules come in. Rules ensure that the public and agencies (like the Department of Education) understand how the law should be implemented. It protects students’ and parents’ rights by outlining clear steps that schools must take, for example, with respect to providing special education services.

What are some examples of rules?

One rule, Ed 1107.04(b), states that the individuals who evaluate a student for special education services be certified and licensed.

Another, Ed 1107.04(d), states that parents shall have access to all test results and relevant educational records at least 5 days before an IEP team meeting so they can be fully informed when meeting with the school. There’s no comparable federal language that addresses parent access to records, but after public comment was compelled to create the rule.

Ed 1109.04(a) states that each teacher and services provider be given a copy of the complete IEP. There’s no comparable state or federal language that requires a student’s support team be provided with the full educational plan.

The State Board of Education has a lengthy process for rules, and engages parents, educators, specialists, and the community when proposing them. You can find every rule number, nature of the rule, state and federal minimum requirement, actual language, and reason for exceeding the state or federal standard on the Department of Education website (or download it here).

What does the bill do?

The bill dramatically restricts the ability of the SBOE to propose rules. Here are the two main provisions of the bill:

  1. The state board shall not propose rules that require a school district or school to expand or modify activities to implement a curriculum, method of instruction, or statewide assessment program that necessitate additional expenditures from local revenues.
  2. The state board shall not propose a rule pursuant to RSA 541-A that exceeds the minimum requirements of state or federal law. Proposed rules designed to implement federal law may exceed the minimum requirements of federal law only if, and to the extent that, state statute explicitly authorizes the state board to exceed the minimum requirements of federal law.

What are the concerns?

The bill needs significant revision in order to avoid upending the protections and rights of students with disabilities and their parents.

To “exceed” minimum requirements is already a confusing concept–even now, it’s not always clear which rules “exceed” requirements and which don’t. HB 620 doesn’t address this at all–it simply exacerbates it.

Many of the rules address parents’ rights to information and collaboration with their child’s educators and specialists. These rules, and subsequently the rights and protections of students with disabilities and their parents, would be in jeopardy.

Reaching Higher NH tracks education-related legislation in New Hampshire. We bring parents, students, educators, and the business community together to gather stories, different points of view, and information to share with the Granite State community. Download the full policy brief of HB 620 here.