Weekly Legislative Update: Governor Sununu delivers budget address, Senate holds public hearing on bill relating to Learn Everywhere

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The Senate Education & Workforce Development Committee hears several bills on February 12.

Last week, Governor Sununu delivered his budget address to the joint House and Senate, the House Education subcommittee wrapped up their work on key funding-related bills, and the Senate Education & Workforce Development Committee heard testimony on a bill that would affirm school boards’ roles in granting academic credit.

This week, House Ed is expected to vote on a recommendation for key education funding-related bills. Remember to follow us on Facebook to watch the videos in real-time, or if you missed an important session, watch it in the archives!

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Senate hears bill that would reaffirm local control over academics

The Senate Education & Workforce Development Committee held a public hearing on SB 140, which would reaffirm local school districts’ role in authorizing programs that give academic credit. According to the bill sponsors, SB 140 fixes the legislative intent of SB 435, which was passed in 2018 and gave the SBOE authority to grant academic credits, saying that the language of SB 435 was too broad and gave more authority to the SBOE than intended.

According to Senator Jay Kahn, the bill’s prime sponsor, SB 140 clarifies that the approval of all academic programs remains with the local school district and the district’s role in approving curriculum.

House Education Chairman Mel Myler said that he was “stunned” by how the Department of Education interpreted SB 435 to create “a whole new structure of bureaucracy that went far beyond anything that was ever spoken about during the hearing.” SB 435, passed in 2018, allows the SBOE to adopt rules on alternative programs that would grant academic credits; however, Chairman Myler said that the committee’s scope related to Extended Learning Opportunities, not a program like Learn Everywhere.

As explained last week, the Department of Education drafted new administrative rules in response to SB 435 known as the Learn Everywhere rules.  Read more about the Learn Everywhere program and how it compares to what districts are already doing to allow students to learn outside of the classroom here. And, read more about the State Board of Education’s public hearing on the rules here.

School Building Aid

The House passed HB 176, which would change the school building aid appropriation from a maximum of $50 million per year, to a minimum of $50 million per year including payments on “the tail.” According to Representative Ladd, “older buildings generally do not have building systems such as lighting, ventilation, acoustical control, science labs, nursing and counseling areas, adequate thermal controls, and functional furniture that result in less illness and improved student achievement.”

Governor Sununu also addressed school building aid in his budget address, where he proposed a new, $63 million fund for targeted school building aid from Education Trust Fund surpluses in 2018 and 2019. This one-time fund would provide funding for property-poor school districts, according to the budget summary. The school building aid program has been on hold since 2011, and the Department of Education estimated that in 2017, there were about $650 million worth of construction and renovation projects on hold. Read more about school building aid in Part 5 of our Education Funding Series!

Governor Sununu’s Budget

Governor Sununu released his budget proposal and gave an overview to the House and Senate on February 14. He’ll deliver a more in-depth presentation to the House and Senate Finance committees on Tuesday.

The Governor pledged more funding for school building aid, charter schools, and special education. We will provide more information on these programs once they become available.

Next, the House will form its own budget in the form of a bill. There will be several opportunities for the public to weigh in on the budget at public hearings, usually scheduled for early March. We’ll keep you posted with important dates and times.

Education FUNding

A subcommittee of House Education tasked with studying four different bills that would each tweak the adequacy formula wrapped up its work on Wednesday and will be bringing forth one final bill (likely to be HB 709) for the full committee to vote on this Tuesday. For the past few weeks, the subcommittee examined how each of these proposed changes would impact overall state education spending as well as how they would help the state’s most vulnerable communities.

While the final details of HB 709 are not entirely known, based on the hearings of the subcommittee, the bill will attempt to target more state aid (starting in FY 2021) to those communities that are struggling the most with properly funding public education via local property taxes. Specifically, the bill, which will not change any of the base adequacy or differentiated aid dollar amounts, will focus additional state dollars to those communities with below-average property wealth and/or communities with high concentrations of poverty. Lawmakers have talked about measures that would immediately help districts most in need, while working on a longer-term plan that would aim to address funding inequities.

The full House Education Committee is scheduled to vote on a recommendation for all of the four bills that were referred to the committee on Tuesday, and we will see what the final bill looks like. If the House Education Committee votes to send it to the House Floor, the full House will vote on it. If it passes, it will go to House Finance, where the public will have another chance to weigh in during a public hearing.

School Safety

The House Education Committee held a public hearing on two high-profile school safety bills, HB 101 and HB 564. HB 101 would allow school boards, SAUs, and charter schools to adopt gun-free school zones, while HB 564 would restrict firearms in all school zones.

Federal law bans guns in schools, but New Hampshire has a law in place that gives sole authority to regulate firearms to the state legislature. Currently, there is no state law that restricts firearms on school grounds.

The House Education Committee will vote on a recommendation for each bill on Tuesday.

Workforce Development

The House Education Committee unanimously recommended HB 570, which aims to establish a commission to study career pathways from full-time service year programs to postsecondary education and employment opportunities in support of New Hampshire’s future workforce needs.

This Week

  • The House will not meet this week, but the House Education Committee will hold an executive session on funding- and school safety related bills on Tuesday and House Finance Division II will hold a work session on bills relating to stabilization grants and school building aid.
  • On Tuesday, the Senate Education & Workforce Development Committee will hold public hearings on bills relating to mental health services, school discipline, stabilization grants, and a bill that extends the Croydon Bill to religious schools. SB 8, known as the Croydon Bill, was passed in 2017 and allows districts to contract with nonsectarian private schools for grades that they do not serve with their own public schools.
  • The Senate will vote on SB 303 on Thursday, which would fully fund the Catastrophic Aid program beginning in 2021. The Catastrophic Aid program provides additional funding for special education costs: once a school district has spent 3 ½ times the state average per pupil (about $52,000) providing special education services to a child, the state will reimburse 80% of any additional costs. But there have been limits on the funding for the program, which SB 303 would reverse.

Have questions? Email us at staff@reachinghighernh.org and we will forward it to the appropriate team member!