Weekly Legislative Update: School choice on hold, full-day kindergarten in play, Senate gets public input on state budget

We’re on the back nine of the legislative session, meaning that many bills have already been acted on by at least one of the chambers.

Last week, lawmakers in both chambers made big moves: Representative Terry Wolf (Bedford) amended the targeted kindergarten aid program to fully fund all full-day kindergarten programs. The House Education Committee voted to retain the sweeping school choice bill, SB 193. And, the Senate Education Committee killed District 17’s Senator John Reagan’s amendment to give Commissioner Frank Edelblut the power to restructure his department and power over its budget.

This week, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the state budget on Tuesday starting at 1 p.m. in Representative’s Hall. And the House will vote on the kindergarten bill, requiring civics in high school, and expanding dual enrollment programs like Running Start.

Town Hall Meeting

New England College hosted Commissioner Frank Edelblut for a town hall-style meeting on Friday, where he talked about his vision for public education in New Hampshire. He said that the two most important aspects of education are parent voice and personalization. It was one of the first times he explained parental voice in a public forum:

“When I talk about parent voice, what I’m interested in is trying to find ways to engage parents substantively in the education of their children so that they have skin in the game.

“What that looks like in one district is a district that has 6 elementary schools…. You can pick any one that you want.

“It doesn’t really matter what it is because even if they choose the local community school, if there is any kind of issue associated with the education of their child and they have to come in and meet with the administration, its a different conversation that takes place. Because now you’re saying, well, that parent chose that school.”

He answered questions about school funding, academic standards, school choice, and more. “We need to support all of our students,” he said when asked about protecting our LGTBQ+ students. Watch the entire meeting here.

Last Week

School Choice

The House Education Committee voted 15-4 to retain SB 193, the bill that would have created an “education freedom savings account” program in New Hampshire. Committee members cited a host of problems with the bill, including the constitutionality of sending public, taxpayer money to religious schools, and the impact the program would have on students with disabilities (students and parents waive all rights regarding special education and IEPs when they enroll in a private school).

Representative Dan Wolf voted in favor of retaining the bill, calling the vote “death with dignity.” Representative Le, after hearing Representative Moore call it an issue of “school choice,” said she had an issue with the word “choice:”

A subcommittee will study the bill over the summer, but several committee members vowed to bring back a version that would be constitutional. Representative Rick Ladd said he received “hundreds” of emails about the bill and said that they need to be “proactive” about addressing the issues with it.We will be tracking any new developments on the bill.

Full-day Kindergarten

At the executive session, Representative Terry Wolf proposed an amendment that replaced the Governor’s plan for targeted funding of full-day kindergarten with full funding of all programs. While the Governor’s plan would have provided $9 million of state funding for full-day kindergarten targeted at the state’s most at-risk students, Representative Wolf’s amendment provides $14 million by amending the state’s education funding formula to count kindergarten students the same as grade-school students (i.e., under the amended bill, a district will receive around $3,900 a year for a student who attends full-day kindergarten).

Currently, districts receive only 50% of the state funding amount for kindergartners, even if they offer full-day programs. In Laconia, for example, Representative Wolf’s amended bill would mean an additional $260,000 in state money for their schools.

The Governor calls full-day kindergarten “absolutely essential,” saying that it’s important for attracting and retaining young families in New Hampshire. Representative Wolf said that districts are struggling with funding, and even if this helps them a little bit, it would be worth it.

Four Chambers of Commerce are holding a rally to support full-day kindergarten on Tuesday in Manchester ahead of Thursday’s vote. Mayors from both Manchester and Nashua are expected to speak in favor of the bill.

If it passes, it will go to the House Finance Committee.

Department of Education

The Senate Education Committee killed Senator John Reagan’s amendment to restructure the Department of Education in favor of Senator David Watters’ proposed solution.

One of Watters’ amendments would create a study committee to figure out what the legislature could and should do to address any problems within the department. The other one gives the Commissioner a little bit of latitude over hiring and restructuring, as long as he consults with the State Board of Education. It was a 3-2 vote to kill Senator Reagan’s amendment, with Senator Ruth Ward as the swing vote.

This week

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the state budget on Tuesday, May 2. The hearing is scheduled from 1-8 p.m., but it’s expected to go much longer than that.

On Thursday, May 4, the House is expected to vote on SB 191, funding full-day kindergarten for districts that offer it.

SB 101, which would expand the state’s dual enrollment program, Running Start, is on the House’s calendar this week. If it passes, students wouldn’t have to pay to participate in Running Start (the state would pay up to $250 per course), which allows students to get college credits for some of their courses through the Community College System of New Hampshire. And, the bill would allow students to take Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes as early as sophomore year. Right now, state statute specifies that students have to be in their junior or senior year before enrolling in CTE programs.

The House will also vote on SB 45, which requires all students to take a half-year course in civics and government. It’s on the consent calendar, so it will likely pass without debate.

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