Weekly legislative update: House Ed proposes funding formula adjustment and recommends gun-free school zone

This week, the House Education Committee made their proposal for an interim education funding formula and recommended a legislative commission to study a longer-term solution. The Senate Education & Workforce Development Committee also held executive sessions on bills that reaffirm local control over academic credits, establish a tax credit for donations to Career and Technical Education centers, and restore stabilization.

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Education FUNding

For the past several weeks, a subcommittee of the House Education Committee has studied four separate bills that would change the way we pay for public education. This week was the deadline to act on all four of them. They presented three bills: one bill that would address the formula, one that would address transportation, and one that would create a study commission.

The House Education Committee released their amended version of HB 709, which adjusts the formula that New Hampshire uses to fund public education. In the first year (2020), the bill would fully restore stabilization grants to 2016 levels before the annual reductions, and in 2021, the bill would:

  • Reinstate Fiscal Capacity Disparity Aid from the pre-2011 funding formula;
  • Eliminate stabilization grants;
  • Provide additional funding for schools with larger percentages of low income students;
  • Institute a reporting requirement for districts, requiring them to report to the Commissioner of the Department of Education on how the funds are spent and explaining how the selected programs would address student needs

HB 709 doesn’t change the base adequacy or differentiated aid amounts beyond the standard biennial increase for inflation, but does target aid to the state’s most vulnerable communities.

The House Education Committee also amended HB 713, which would have originally increased adequacy amount, to require districts to provide transportation for kindergartners who live more than 2 miles from school. Current law states that districts can choose whether to provide transportation to students who live more than 2 miles from school, and kindergartners and high school students regardless of how far away they live.

The Committee recommended killing HB 711, which would have increased the amount of base adequacy. They also recommended passing HB 551, which would create a commission to study the education funding formula and make recommendations by 2021.

The Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee also recommended killing SB 280, which would allow districts to send students to religious schools, even if they have in-district schools for their students. The bill goes to the full Senate for a vote on March 7.

Stabilization Grants

The Senate Education & Workforce Development Committee unanimously recommended SB 309, which fully restores stabilization grants to 2012 levels, and amended SB 265 to fully restore stabilization grants to 2012 levels. The previous text of SB 265 would freeze the grants at the 2018 level (92%).

According to the committee, recommending the bills would express the will of the Senate to give relief to districts. The Senate will vote on both bills on March 7.

The House Finance Committee Division II held a work session on HB 734, which freezes the stabilization grant cuts at 2019 levels (88%) in 2020 and 2021. Since there are other proposals that address stabilization, the committee suggested killing the bill.

Proposal to Merge Education Trust Fund & General Fund

As outlined in his Executive Budget Summary, as well as anticipated in HB 2, Governor Sununu is proposing, beginning in FY2020, to merge the Education Trust Fund with the General Fund. Reaching Higher will provide additional information in the coming weeks as more details become available.

School Safety

After lengthy public hearings, the House Education Committee recommended passing HB 564, which would prohibit people from bringing guns in a safe school zone. The Committee recommended killing HB 101, which would give school boards, SAUs, and charter schools the authority to adopt gun-free 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.

Local control over academics

The Senate Education & Workforce Development Committee recommended passing SB 140, which would reaffirm local school districts’ role in issuing credits for alternative, extended learning, and work-based learning programs. The Senate will vote on the bill on Thursday, March 7. According to the bill sponsors, SB 140 fixes the legislative overreach resulting from  SB 435, which passed in 2018. The rulemaking process for SB 435 gave rise to the Department of Education’s “Learn Everywhere” program, which proposes to allow the State Board of Education the authority approve for-profit and nonprofit programs that would issue academic credits. Districts would be required to accept those credits, which runs counter to how the criteria for, and issuing of, academic credits are currently determined at the local school board level.  

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 packed public hearing on the rules last week here.

Workforce Development

The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing on SB 270, which would establish a tax credit against business profits taxes for donations to career and technical education centers. Under the bill, districts would be able to accept donations for up to 50 percent of the cost of apprenticeship and training programs offered by the regional CTE center, up to 50 percent of the salary paid to interns, apprentices, and trainees enrolled in a CTE center program, or donations of equipment used by a CTE center.

Special Education

The Senate passed an amended version of SB 303 on Thursday, which which would fund the Catastrophic Aid program at 90% by 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.

Next Week

Next week is relatively quiet over at the State House. The House will meet on Wednesday, but the Senate is not scheduled to meet until the following Thursday, March 7. Neither chamber’s committees will hold sessions on education-related bills.

The House will vote on the following bills on Wednesday:

  • HB 177, which would restore stabilization grants to 2016 rates, or 100% of the original amount (Committee recommendation: OTP with amendment, Vote: 17-3)
  • HB 184, which would provide districts with full adequacy payments for full-day kindergarten students and would separate the program from Keno revenues. (Committee recommendation: OTP, Vote: 12-6)
  • HB 551, which would create an independent commission to study the education funding formula in 2019-2020 (Committee recommendation: OTP with amendment, Vote: 12-7)
  • HB 709, which amends the funding formula to provide additional aid to the state’s most vulnerable communities (Committee recommendation: OTP with amendment, Vote: 17-2)
  • HB 711, which would increase the amount of state aid provided to school districts. The committee recommended killing this bill in favor of HB 709 (Committee recommendation: ITL, Consent Calendar)
  • HB 713, which as amended, would change districts’ responsibilities for student transportation (Committee recommendation: OTP with amendment, Consent Calendar)
  • HB 545, which would prohibit law enforcement officers from questioning a minor at school without a parent or guardian present (Committee recommendation: ITL, Consent Calendar)
  • HB 564, which would prohibit firearms on school grounds (Committee recommendation: OTP with amendment, Vote: 11-8)
  • HB 570, establishing a commission to study career pathways from full-time service year programs to post-secondary education and employment opportunities in support of New Hampshire’s future workforce needs (Committee recommendation: OTP with amendment, Consent Calendar)
  • HB 689, establishing a student career and college investment program (Committee recommendation: OTP with amendment, Vote: 14-4)

Have a happy and safe February break!

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