NH Education Roundup, Oct. 19, 2020

The Commission to Study School Funding’s Fiscal Policy work group heard from Massachusetts policy experts last week.
In this issue of Reaching Higher NH’s Education News Brief: Gov. Sununu announces $45 million for schools; School Funding Commission hears from Massachusetts policy experts and reviews Granite State Poll results; Alliance for College and Career Readiness offers testimony on course credit requirements; and schools deal with COVID-19 infections.

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Sununu Announces $45 Million for Schools, Advisory Board Requests More — New Hampshire schools will receive an additional $45 million in relief funds that can be spent through 2021, Gov. Sununu announced in a press conference on Thursday, Oct. 15. CARES Act funds totaling $35 million will be distributed to schools on a per pupil basis of approximately $200 per student and can be spent on technology and other resources needed to conduct hybrid or remote learning, he said. An additional $10 million will be put in an emergency fund to pay for PPE and testing for schools that exhaust the initial funds. 

In response to the announcement, the bipartisan Legislative Advisory Board for the Governor’s Office For Emergency Relief and Recovery voted 4-2 on Friday, Oct. 16, to ask the Governor for an additional $30 million in funds to help schools with pandemic-related expenses. The week before the announcement, Dr. Carl Ladd, Executive Director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, had told the board that an estimated $70 million was needed for schools to address pandemic-related expenses.

Fiscal Policy Work Group Examines Massachusetts’ Funding Model — When Massachusetts lawmakers reformed the state’s school funding formula a year ago, they determined that communities with more families navigating poverty need more funding per student, members of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education told the Commission to Study School Funding’s Fiscal Policy work group on Tuesday, Oct. 13. The state’s original formula, created in 1993, provided extra funding per pupil based on factors such as eligibility for the free and reduced lunch program. The new formula doubles state aid in communities with high concentrations of students in the free and reduced lunch program, “recognizing that more work needs to be done, more supports are needed when you have a significant number of low income students,” Alice Peisch, chair of the MA Joint Committee on Education told the work group.

As they develop policy recommendations for the coming Legislative session, Commission members are analyzing other states’ funding formulas. Massachusetts ranks first in the nation for its standardized test scores and recently completed a process similar to the one New Hampshire is now undergoing to revise its school funding formula.

Massachusetts’ new formula, which will be implemented over the next seven years, provides about $12,000 in “foundation aid,” per student and caps property tax rates by annual growth and total assessed property value. Peisch said the committee has recently been studying districts that are getting good student outcomes with relatively modest spending. One key finding is that those districts tend to pay their teachers more, she said. 

Engagement Work Group Reviews Granite State Poll — Also on Tuesday, Oct. 13, The Commission to Study School Funding’s Engagement work group got a look at the results of a Sept. 2020 Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Of the 1,030 survey participants, slightly more than half said the state should increase its funding of public schools. Four in 10 would strongly or somewhat favor changing current policy so that everyone pays the same property tax to fund public schools; however only 24% strongly or somewhat favor a statewide property tax. About 1,000 people were recruited by phone to take the web-based survey. Thirty-five percent were registered Republicans, 12% were registered Democrats, and 11% were undeclared or not registered voters. Only 18% said they were a parent or guardian of a student enrolled in a K-12 public school in New Hampshire.

The Alliance for College and Career Readiness Offers Revisions to the State Board on Requirements for Course Credits — On October 8, 2020, The NH Alliance for College and Career Readiness offered testimony during the State Board of Education’s public hearing on administrative rule Ed 306.27: High School Curriculum, Credits, Graduation Requirements, and Co-curricular Program. The Alliance did not take a position on the rule, but did offer guidance to the State Board of Education on word choice and possible misinterpretation.  The Alliance asked for reconsideration on the use of the terms “placement and pre-tests” as well as “advanced level.”  A recording of the meeting will be posted here.

COVID Cases Close Schools, Raise Anxiety Levels — Schools in at least two New Hampshire districts had to switch to remote learning last week due to staff or students testing positive for COtVID-19. Harold Martin Elementary School in Hopkinton halted its in-person classes after two teachers tested positive, and Franklin schools went remote after two related students in two different schools tested positive. Several other schools have reported active cases since the start of the school year, including Concord and Hooksett. School officials told the Concord Monitor that the first several weeks of school have been extraordinarily challenging as they implement hybrid learning models and deal with the possibility of active infections. As of early last week, more than 150 students and staff had tested positive for COVID-19 in 94 different schools, State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said at a press conference on Thursday, Oct. 15. He added that very little transmission has taken place within schools so far. 

Enrollment is Dropping in Public Schools Around the Country
NPR, Anya Kamenetz & Jessica Bakeman, Oct. 9, 2020

The Surprising Value of a Wandering Mind
The Atlantic, Lily Meyer, Oct. 13, 2020

Students, Parents and Teachers Tell Their Stories of Remote Learning
New York Times, Amelia Nierenberg, Oct. 14, 2020

Will Ditching Calculus Make Math More Relevant?
Edutopia, Sarah Gonser, Oct. 9, 2020