On July 18, a legislative oversight committee temporarily stopped the implementation of the Learn Everywhere program. The program, introduced to the State Board of Education by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut in December 2018, mandates that public high schools and charter schools award credit for programs run by approved private, for-profit and nonprofit companies.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) identified eight ways in which Learn Everywhere potentially violated existing state laws in an objection letter.
Now, the State Board must respond to those eight potential violations–by either changing the rules to align with laws, explaining why Learn Everywhere doesn’t violate the laws, or withdrawing the rules for the program completely. The State Board has until September 3, 2019 to respond.
Any changes made to the rules must be approved in a majority vote by the State Board, a group of seven members who are gubernatorial appointments.
The State Board of Education can consult the Department of Education for proposals to change the rules, or may propose rule changes themselves at its upcoming meeting on Thursday, August 8, 2019.
The State Board welcomes public input through written testimony (including email) before and during their meeting. The State Board holds a public comment period at the beginning of each meeting. Read more about how to speak during public comment period, including what to expect and how much time you will have, here. View contact information for State Board members here and view the Board agendas here.
Violations of state law
JLCAR identified eight areas in which Learn Everywhere potentially violates state law in a detailed objection letter. There were concerns stemming from the basic program setup: Learn Everywhere teachers would not need to have any training or experience in teaching or working with children; there are no protections for children in cases of harassment, abuse, or bullying from other students, staff, or other workers at a Learn Everywhere site; and there is no clarity around where an Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) ends and a Learn Everywhere program begins.
But JLCAR also had concerns over the fundamental program. According to the objection letter, Learn Everywhere removes the authority of the local school board in granting academic credit, and it mandates that schools accept credit when they had no say in the curriculum taught at the external program.
When it comes to public education, state law favors local control. State law requires the State Board of Education to set minimum academic standards, and requires local school districts to determine the academic curriculum aligned to those standards. “Thus, [school districts have the power to] award credit to students,” wrote JLCAR Attorney Christina Muñiz.
JLCAR asserted that Learn Everywhere removes this power from school boards and districts.
“The Department can’t assume authority for curriculum approval that, by statute, is provided to school districts,” Senator Jay Kahn (D-Keene) wrote in a press statement.
The State Board has three options for responding to the potential violations: change the rules to comply with state law; make no changes to the rules, explaining why they do not violate state law; or, withdraw the rules completely. Any changes it makes must be approved by the State Board of Education, which will likely discuss next steps at their next meeting on August 8.
“A big hurdle remains”
Private organizations have offered letters of support for Learn Everywhere, but former State Board of Education member Bill Duncan argues that they may not get the chance to participate in the program–or may not want to, given the “uncertainty” of it.
According to Duncan, the State Board of Education “probably” won’t change “shall” with “may” to remove the mandate, which is at the heart of JLCAR’s preliminary objection. Without changing the wording, Duncan expects JLCAR to issue a final objection–which signals to the Court that the rules are not “prima facie lawful and reasonable.”
If the State Board chose to implement the rules anyway, the rules themselves would “not have the full effect of the law,” and would be on “uncertain legal standing.”
“Would the Girl Scouts and the local knitting store, as the commissioner suggests, actually make programs that attempt to conform with the N.H. Minimum Standards for School Approval? Would they go through a months-long SBOE accreditation process in an unfamiliar education context… knowing that it will likely be challenged in Court?,” he writes in a piece for the Concord Monitor.
Then, there’s the question of whether school boards would grant credit for Learn Everywhere programs–and whether there would be penalties for rejecting them.
“Would local school boards actually feel compelled to grant the credits? Any attempt to enforce Learn Everywhere would require the education department to defend the validity of a rule the Legislature had found invalid. And in the unlikely event that the department prevailed, there would be no real penalty for refusing the credits.”
Read more about Learn Everywhere:
- Legislative oversight committee issues preliminary objection on Learn Everywhere rules
- Four things you need to know about JLCAR
- State Board narrowly approves Learn Everywhere, Chair asserting that local control “is a myth”
- State Board approves Learn Everywhere rules while acknowledging “overwhelming” public opposition
- Questions and answers about the proposed Learn Everywhere program
- Learn Everywhere would outsource NH public school classes to private vendors