Weekly Legislative Update: Teacher Appreciation Week, Learn Everywhere, State Standards, & the Budget

State Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, May 8 in Nashua.

Last week, we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week! If you haven’t had the chance, #ThankATeacher that made a difference in your or your child’s life.

The State Board of Education met on Wednesday, where they discussed the proposed Learn Everywhere program. It is in its final phase: the Board will vote on the rules during their June meeting, and Chairman Drew Cline said that they are still accepting public comment and feedback on the proposal.

The Senate Finance Committee held public hearings on the state budget on Tuesday and Wednesday in Manchester and Concord. Hundreds of people testified, with many people asking the Finance Committee to keep the provisions in the budget that would provide $164 million in additional funding for schools statewide.

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Math and ELA Standards

At the State Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, May 8, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut shared that the Department of Education is opening up conversations about changing the Math and English Language Arts standards.

“I know last time I put ELA and Math on the table, there was a meltdown from a whole bunch of people, so really trying to go a little bit slow. Making sure we get input from the curriculum and instruction folks in terms of what the best way is to go about that, make sure everybody is comfortable with what we’re doing,” he told the Board.

He mentioned three organizations as models for standards: Kumon, the international education organization; AIR, the assessment vendor for the state’s annual assessment; and the Jaffrey-Rindge School District and their work with power standards.

Learn Everywhere

At the State Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, the Board discussed the proposed Learn Everywhere rules that they will vote on at their next meeting on Thursday, June 13.

The proposed Learn Everywhere program would allow students to earn academic credit for  courses, programs, extracurricular activities they take outside of their public school, and would require high schools to “accept at least one third, and may accept as much as 100% if approved by the superintendent, of the total number of credits required for high school graduation, if requested by a student,” including core courses like math, English Language Arts, and science. There are no restrictions on the types of organizations that could offer programs–for-profit, nonprofit, online, and out-of-state organizations would be eligible to grant academic credit, including the Girl Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Club, Big Fish Learning Academy in Dover, and Outward Bound with locations across the United States, if approved by the State Board of Education.

According to Board Chair Drew Cline, the Department hasn’t made any rule revisions since the last meeting in April due to lack of feedback for further revisions. The Commissioner also shared that there are no further meetings scheduled. Therefore, any rule changes made in the meantime will not available for public review until the week of the June meeting.

Board members raised concerns that not all feedback was being addressed, including questions about how the Learn Everywhere programs would be required to comply with state academic standards, as well as concerns about minimum qualifications of the individuals who would be teaching students at program sites. They also mentioned recurring concerns, including the costs to local school districts, the impact on students requiring accommodations through their IEPs, and LE programs’ requirements to adhere to competencies and districts’ inability to determine whether the LE program meets the local school district’s requirements and rigor for academic credit.

At the end of the discussion, Board member Helen Honorow expressed her concern with the program overall and the Department’s decision to move forward in pursuing the rules despite public concerns and moves within the Legislature indicating that the rules are outside of the legislative intent of the law passed in 2018:

“I have read every word of feedback that we’ve gotten, and everything that comes our way has been disproportionately against these regulations. And we continue to move forward. To me, ignoring our task to support public education and public educators, and really these rules–even with the changes–are not addressing the issue of school districts being the ones to make decisions about how to give credits, what requirements educators should have, and now with a legislature that’s saying, ‘No, that’s not what we meant.’ I just don’t understand why we are where we are instead of investing our resources into ELOs and ELO Coordinators,” Honorow said.

“I am very concerned about our role, turning our backs on public education and public educators,” she continued.   

According to Cline, the proposed rules are not final and the Board is welcoming feedback on the program.  

As the Department of Education and State Board work on the rules, the legislature is considering a bill that would stop the program completely and remove the State Board’s authority to approve Learn Everywhere programs. On Tuesday, May 7, the House Education Committee recommended passing SB 140, which reaffirms the local school district’s role in granting academic credit.

Reaching Higher NH will release a comprehensive overview of the Learn Everywhere discussion at Wednesday’s State Board meeting later this week. Stay tuned.

Education Funding & the State Budget

School administrators, educators, parents, and community members from across the state urged lawmakers to keep the education funding provisions in the state budget at the Senate Finance Committee hearings on May 5 and 6. The committee held hearings at the State House in Concord and an evening hearing at the Manchester City Hall last week.

The current version of the budget would increase K-12 education funding by $164 million over 2 years by restoring stabilization grants to their full levels in 2020 and implementing new funding streams for vulnerable communities in 2021.

From the Associated Press:

Frank Sprague, chairman of the Claremont school board and a former school administrator, said decreases in the stabilization grants has made it impossible for his district to hire and retain teachers, and that property taxpayers are at a breaking point when it comes to paying for schools. He urged lawmakers to find the courage to stand up to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s possible veto and to “face the fact that additional sources of revenue must be found.”

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier delivered an equally dire warning. Without restoration of the stabilization grants, the state’s struggling northernmost city will have to eliminate two police officer positions, two firefighters and a public works employee, he said.

“We’re at the point now where we are going to collapse,” he said.

This week, the Senate Finance Committee will begin their work on the budget. The Department of Education presented on Monday at 1:00 p.m., followed by other agencies. The Senate has the opportunity to modify the House version of the budget; the Senate version will likely be released at the end of May.

House passes anti-discrimination bill

The House passed SB 263, which extends the state’s civil rights statute to public schools and prohibits discrimination based on age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, marital status, familial status, disability, religion, or national origin. The bill also gives the victims of discrimination in public schools and the state Attorney General the ability to take legal action.

The bill does not extend protections to private schools that contract with school districts, as allowed in the “Croydon bill.” The House’s version of anti-discrimination measures in HB 383 would have protected students that attend private schools that accept public funds, but the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee retained the bill.

Some Representatives, including the former Chair of the House Education Committee Rick Ladd, suggested the legislature form a committee to study discrimination in public schools.

“Things have already been studied,” responded Democratic Rep. Linda Tanner, of Georges Mill. “We don’t need another study committee. We need to act now to end discrimination in our schools so that students can learn in a safe environment.”

Legislation that extends anti-discrimination laws to public schools was the first recommendation in a report by Governor Sununu’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion:

New Hampshire is one of the only states in the northeast without any state statutory anti-discrimination protection for students. Accordingly, the Council recommends that New Hampshire enact a state statute that prohibits discrimination against students in public schools based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, mental or physical disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee. A public hearing is scheduled for May 15 at 10:30 in LOB 208. Follow Reaching Higher NH on Facebook to watch our live coverage of the hearing.

This Week

The House will not meet on any education-related legislation. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to work on the state budget throughout the week. On Tuesday, May 14, the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee will hold an executive session on pending legislation.

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