Legislative Committee Issues Final Objection to Learn Everywhere

Image courtesy of NHPR

On Thursday, October 17, a legislative oversight committee voted to delay DOE Commissioner Frank Edelblut’s proposed Learn Everywhere program, which would mandate that public high schools and charter schools accept credit from approved private, for-profit and nonprofit companies.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) voted to issue both a final objection and a joint resolution, which blocks the implementation of the program until lawmakers take the issue up during the next legislative session. 

A vote to issue a final objection is highly uncommon: the Committee has issued seven other final objections in the past ten years, despite reviewing, and approving, hundreds of rule proposals. They have issued even fewer joint resolutions. 

Now, the Committee will draft a bill that would ask the legislature to clarify whether or not they intended to give the State Board the authority to force a school district to accept credits for programs and courses that it did not approve. Lawmakers passed SB 140, which reaffirmed the local school districts’ role in granting credit, this past spring, but the bill was vetoed by the Governor in July. 

Questions About the Role of SBOE Chair

A report from the Union Leader stated that State Board of Education Chairman Drew Cline’s “policy group” worked to move the Learn Everywhere proposal along in the rules process.

State Board of Education Chairman Drew Cline had worked to get his policy group to move these proposals to the rules panel,” the article stated. 

In addition to being the chairman of the State Board of Education, Cline is the Executive Director of the Josiah Bartlett Center, a 501(c)3 “nonprofit, independent think-tank.”

Remaining Legal Concerns with Learn Everywhere

In July, JLCAR issued a preliminary objection and cited eight violations where the proposed Learn Everywhere rules may violate state laws and rules. When JLCAR issues a preliminary objection, the state agency or department gets one chance to respond. In August, the State Board of Education voted to send in a response drafted by Commissioner Edelblut.

In the Commissioner’s response, he made several minor changes. However, disputed JLCAR’s assertion that Learn Everywhere supersedes local control, writing that the objection was based on an “incorrect understanding” of the current laws and rules. 

But according to lawmakers on the Committee, the Commissioner’s response did not address three of the eight violations. Learn Everywhere, they stated, still usurps local control by mandating that public schools grant credit, when that school has no say in approving the curriculum of the course or program for which credit is being granted. 

“The Board of Education can’t rewrite state statute through a rule setting process,” Senator Jay Kahn said during the committee meeting. 

“State statutes make clear that the Board does not have the authority to approve school curriculum—that’s the responsibility of local school districts. There was a bipartisan effort this year to clarify those roles; however, Governor Sununu vetoed that bill, so now we’re left with the statutes as they exist.”

What’s Next for Learn Everywhere

The Department of Education cannot proceed with the program unless: lawmakers assert that the State Board has the authority to approve academic credit programs; lawmakers on the oversight committee fail to issue a joint resolution in the required timeframe; the joint resolution fails; or, the Governor vetoes the joint resolution. 

The oversight committee voted to sponsor a joint resolution to clarify:

“Whether RSA 193-E:2-a, V(b) does or does not give the board authority to require school districts to grant credit for courses or programs when the district did not itself approve the curriculum.”

“In other words, [clarify that] the statute does or does not give the board the authority to force a school district to accept the credit if it chose not to,” explained Senator Jay Kahn (D-Keene).  

The final language of the bill will be determined at a future meeting. JLCAR members are required to file a joint resolution within 20 days of the start of the 2020 session. Once introduced, the resolution has 90 days to work through the legislative process. If it fails to meet either of these deadlines, it fails–and the Department is allowed to adopt the rules. 

Whether or not the joint resolution fails, JLCAR has effectively said that the Learn Everywhere program is contrary to current laws and rules by issuing a final objection. This means that the State is no longer accountable for any legal challenges, should there be any if the program is implemented. The Department of Education itself, would have the burden of proof to defend the Learn Everywhere program in court. 

Administrative Rules Director Scott Eaton noted that any legislator may amend the existing law in question during the regular session by introducing a separate bill, in addition to the proposed joint resolution. In fact, there are already about four potential bills concerning the granting of credit and the role of the State Board of Education. 

Read more about Learn Everywhere:

Since reposting the Union Leader’s story, SBOE Chair Drew Cline contacted Reaching Higher NH, stating the following: “The Bartlett Center does not engage in any lobbying activities at all. There was no lobbying done on Learn Everywhere or any other issue because the center doesn’t lobby.”  The reporter who wrote the story acknowledged that he was referring to the State Board of Education as “his [Drew Cline’s] policy group.”