Weekly Legislative Update: Legislature to battle over full-day kindergarten funding, one of two voucher bills tabled, Commissioner Edelblut confirmed for 4 year term

In a bold statement, the Senate passed a bill last Thursday that reinstates Governor Sununu’s targeted funding program for full-day kindergarten. It was removed from the House’s budget last week, a decision that drove the Governor to ask the legislature to reconsider. He calls full-day kindergarten “absolutely essential” and a “critical tool” for attracting and retaining young families to the state.

Last week, the Senate passed a bill that provides greater local control of the standardized tests our kids take, and a bill that requires districts provide 2 weeks’ notice before teaching sex ed (districts are quick to note that most already notify parents beforehand). Both bills now head to the Governor’s desk.

The House is expected to vote on the budget this week. The House Education Committee will also hold a public hearing on the universal voucher bill (SB 193), which allows parents to receive 90% of the state education grant in the form of a scholarship to use towards private school tuition, homeschooling, and other expenses. It would be among the most extreme voucher programs in the country and most likely cost the state an additional $70 million a year, and will likely increase local property taxes–by millions of dollars in some estimates. The bill already passed the Senate. 

Updates from the past week

The House Finance Committee stripped full-day kindergarten from the state budget. The $18 million proposal to target full-day kindergarten funding to the state’s most vulnerable communities was scrapped. Governor Sununu is still hopeful that the Senate will put the funding back, saying that “full-day kindergarten is absolutely necessary here in the state of New Hampshire.” Speaker Shawn Jasper said that, “the capacity of a 6-year-old to be attentive in a classroom for a full day is pretty much non-existent.”

But, the Senate passed SB 191, which reinstates the targeted funding program. The Senate took SB 191, a bill that would fully fund all full-day kindergarten programs, off the table and amended it to incorporate Governor Sununu’s targeted program. It was almost unanimously passed–21 to 2–and now goes to the House.

The Senate also voted to provide greater local control over the standardized tests our kids take. HB 166 amends state assessment requirements to state that all students would need to take the same, statewide assessment once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school (currently students take the same, statewide assessment in grades 3-8 and once in high school). In the off years, districts could choose what kinds of assessments they want to give to their students. State law still requires districts report on student and district performance every year between third and eighth grades and once in high school. Right now, we use the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) for the lower grades and the SAT for the high school reporting. Now, the bill goes to the Governor’s desk.

And, they voted to require districts to give parents 2 weeks’ notice before teaching sex ed. HB 103 doesn’t require advanced notice of impromptu conversations or questions that students might have. Districts would also have to provide the materials if the parent requests them. This one goes to the Governor’s desk too.

The House tabled HB 647, the bill that would create a voucher program for students with disabilities. The bill would allow parents of students with disabilities to receive 90% of the state aid (about $3,200 plus differentiated aid) to pay for private school, homeschooling costs, and other expenses. It passed the House on its first reading, but the Finance Committee recommended killing it. A similar bill, SB 193, passed the Senate and now goes to the House. SB 193 creates a voucher program for all students and is expected to cost the state about $60 million per year, with additional costs for local communities.

“The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” That was the crux of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, handed down. In a unanimous decision, the Court affirmed that every child has the right to a reasonably adequate public education, regardless of disability. According to the opinion, children with disabilities have the right to an education that considers his or her own, unique circumstances and that schools must plan Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) accordingly.

Commissioner Frank Edelblut secures 4 year term. The Executive Council confirmed Frank Edelblut’s nomination for a four-year term as the Commissioner of Education. The vote was after the Valley News broke the story that the Commissioner did not disclose a $1,000 donation to the Croydon School Board’s legal defense fund, who is suing the state education department.

The Week Ahead

This week, the House Education Committee will hold public hearings on SB 193, the universal voucher program, on Tuesday, April 4 at 10 a.m. The bill would create the nation’s most extreme voucher program, and would likely add $70 million in new costs to the state to pay for students currently in home school and private school. The program would also downshift potentially millions of dollars onto local communities.

The Senate Education Committee will hold a public hearing on HB 620, the bill that requires the State Board of Education to take into account the fiscal impact of any new rules that they propose. They’ll also hold a public hearing on HB 356, which establishes a committee to study the cost of an “adequate” public education.

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