Learn Everywhere would outsource NH public school classes to private vendors

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On June 13, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will decide on whether to move forward with “Learn Everywhere,” a proposal from Department of Education Commissioner Edelblut, that would outsource classes in New Hampshire public high schools to private and nonprofit organizations that apply directly to, and are approved by, the SBOE.

Learn Everywhere would require public high schools to award credits towards high school graduation for programs that students attend separate from school at approved private and nonprofit organizations.

Families would be responsible for paying for the program costs and transportation. This has raised concerns that Learn Everywhere would put students without the means to afford programs, or students that live in parts of the state that do not have access to programs, at a disadvantage and widen what is known as the “opportunity gap.

Board member Cindy Chagnon raised this point at a SBOE meeting in March:

“Parents will have to pay these costs. So, maybe in Manchester, there is a Boys and Girls Club and it won’t cost anything if they can walk there, but if you get up to these towns in the north, I don’t think there are all these wonderful opportunities… I think it will make the [opportunity] gap bigger, instead of smaller.”

Costs to families

Families would be required to pay for all program costs and transportation–as written, there is no financial support, unless it is written into a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). In those cases, the student’s school district would be responsible for paying for the accommodations required by the student’s IEP, but families would still be required to pay for program costs.

The proposed Learn Everywhere program could have a substantial impact on students with disabilities, their families, and their schools. Next week, we will dive deeper into what Learn Everywhere could mean for these students and families.

Here is a list of programs that have expressed interest in offering public school credits through Learn Everywhere in their letters of support to the SBOE — many others, of course, would be eligible to offer programs:

OrganizationExample of ProgramCost
Outward BoundBackpacking & Canoeing$3,995 – $5,195 for a 15-22 day course
KumonMath Tutoring$80 – $100 per month
Busche AcademySummer Camp for Mandarin Chinese$400 per week
FIRST RoboticsRobotics Club$2,250 per team, per season
Franco-American CentreAfter school French class$150 for a 10 week session
Joy of Dance StudioDance classes$92 per month
McAuliffe Shepard Discovery CenterSummer STEM Camp$345 for a 5-day program
BGC Alliance for KidsSummer Camp$160 – $225 per week
NH Academy of Science1 to 3-week Summer Camp$600 – $3,000

These are base costs for specific programs available on each organization’s website and do not include additional costs such as registration fees, materials, or transportation.

While some offer reduced fees or scholarships, many do not publicize scholarships or financial aid. Without scholarships or financial aid, students and families with limited financial means would not be able to access these programs, which would exacerbate, rather than close, the opportunity gap.

Board Chair Drew Cline said during an SBOE meeting in April that Learn Everywhere might create incentives for private and nonprofit organizations to open programs:

“Right now, kids with means have tutors, they have all kinds of opportunities and options to enhance their education. They live in districts that have the resources… So if you live in a district that doesn’t offer all of those things, this is where I see Learn Everywhere having some potential for equity… [T]his opens those doors because it creates incentives for organizations to come in and serve that market,” he said.

Member Phil Nazzaro doubted that the program would solve the gap in opportunity between families with means to pay for the programs, and those without:

“As someone who has spent more than a decade working with organizations that disrupt education, I inherently have a bend towards disruption. [But] I would caution us… the education [opportunity] gap is such a complex problem, to say that one program is a silver bullet to it. I think it certainly is something that is a benefit to the economically disadvantaged, but it’s not going to solve that problem.”

Eroding offerings at local public schools & privatizing public schools

As state funding for public schools shrinks, supporters of Learn Everywhere point to the program as a way for schools to save money. The Commissioner highlighted this at a May 15, 2019 presentation in Dublin. With students taking classes at private and nonprofit organizations, districts could cut programs offered at their local public schools.

SBOE member Ann Lane also alluded to this at their April meeting: “It will be interesting… as a student chooses to take credit outside of the building because it will translate, down the road, to savings for some districts,” she told the Board.

According to Helen Honorow, the longest-serving member of the State Board of Education, Learn Everywhere is the Commissioner’s initiative to privatize elements of public education and it would ultimately exacerbate the opportunity gap:

“The Commissioner, he talked about parents not being able to afford a whole private school, but they could buy a piece of private school. That’s something he talked to me about. And we [the Board of Education] heard that this will increase the equity gap,” she said at their March meeting.

At his presentation in Dublin, the Commissioner talked about how districts could save money through “shrinking” programs offered in their public high schools and sending students to privately-run Learn Everywhere programs.

However, the proposal puts students without the means or access to these programs at a disadvantage, as many of the programs cost money and would require transportation to the provider site.

Later this week, we will look deeper at the requirements that Learn Everywhere providers would have to meet, and how it may affect the quality of students’ learning experiences.

Next Steps

The State Board is accepting public comments on the rules right up until their vote on June 13.

The program must be approved by a majority of State Board members. If it passes, the rules are sent to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) for approval. If passed, JLCAR is likely to vote on the rules at their meeting on Friday, June 21, and will hear public comment on the proposed rules.

Parties can submit electronic testimony to Angela Adams at angela.adams@doe.nh.gov or can testify in person at their meeting on June 13 at the Department of Education office in Concord. If you’re interested in sharing your comments at the meeting, check out our tips here.

Do you have questions about this or other education-related topics? Email us at staff@reachinghighernh.org!