NH Education Roundup, Jan. 19, 2021

NH Gov. Chris Sununu speaks at a press conference on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021.

In this week’s Education News Brief: NEA-NH presses Gov. Sununu on teacher vaccination schedule; new data on in-person learning and COVID-19 spread released; communities anticipate return of “donor town” funding model; and mayors share school budget concerns. 

Teachers union calls on Governor to prioritize teacher vaccinations — New Hampshire educators are urging Gov. Sununu to move teachers into phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, after learning that ski patrol staff are in line for the vaccine ahead of educators, who are scheduled for phase 2. New Hampshire is one of only two states that does not plan to vaccinate frontline educators in phase 1b, NEA-NH said in a statement on Thursday, Jan. 14. The group is also calling on the public to contact the Gov.’s office. Gov. Sununu defended the state’s vaccination schedule in a press conference on Thursday, Jan. 14, saying “getting the vaccine right now has to be about those that are of the highest risk of fatality, those that are of the highest risk of being put in a hospital, and those that care for those that are of highest risk of having fatality or being in the hospital.” He also said he was “frustrated” over pushback from teachers unions on schools reopening. 

New studies offer metrics for in-person learning — Two separate studies released a few weeks apart provide new data on the safety of in-person learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. One study, released on Jan. 4, found that school openings didn’t contribute to the COVID-19 hospitalization rate in places where the rate was below 36 to 44 people per 100,000 per week. During the time of the study, 75% of counties were below the threshold. The second study, released last month, looked at whether the number of COVID-19 cases in a given community increased when schools opened in an in-person or hybrid model. That study found that schools contributed to spread only when COVID-19 rates exceeded certain thresholds. It also found that the threshold was different for different states and concluded that other factors such as community compliance with public health directives were stronger indicators of spread. In New Hampshire, there were 275 people being treated in hospitals for COVID-19 as of late last week.

Coalition forming in opposition of “donor town” model — A group of communities has begun building a coalition to fight school funding proposals that would redistribute property tax revenues among towns. The coalition, proposed by the city of Portsmouth, would pool money for a lobbyist and other experts to oppose any efforts to re-establish so-called donor towns: property wealthy towns whose tax revenues are redirected in part to less wealthy towns. The School Funding Commission did not outright recommend any specific revenue model in its final report published last month, but it highlighted a proposal prepared by an independent research group that called for increasing the statewide property tax and redistributing it to districts based on need. Under that plan, an estimated 70% of towns would see property tax relief. The Commission also recommended creating “circuit breakers” for low- or fixed-income households within property wealthy communities. Originally formed in 1999, the Coalition Communities once had 34 member towns from around the state. 

Mayors team up to voice school funding concerns — The mayors of 13 New Hampshire cities have signed onto a letter to Gov. Sununu and other officials raising concerns about school funding amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Many districts are anticipating funding shortfalls in the coming year due to declines in enrollment during the pandemic as well as reductions in the number of students filling out applications for free and reduced price lunch, a side effect of a waiver signed into law last year in an effort to ensure students receive meals during the remote learning period. Additionally, schools are struggling to shoulder rising retirement and pension costs that have been downshifted from the state to local districts.

New report finds funding disparities within school districts — The funding imbalances that exist between districts are a well-known, if difficult-to-remedy, reality. A new study by The Hechinger Report finds, however, that significant spending disparities exist within districts as well. Using data from a new financial reporting requirement that went into effect this year, Hechinger analyzed state and local spending by school in about 700 districts in 40 states and found multi-million-dollar funding disparities between schools in the same districts. Several key factors seemed to be driving the disparities, including higher teacher pay in wealthier areas, which tend to recruit more experienced teachers, and smaller school sizes in some high-income communities, which are associated with higher per-pupil spending. 

Strapped for funds, Claremont schools ends partnership with family support program — Illustrating the difficult choices districts face in meeting student needs during times of financial stress, the Claremont School District is terminating its five-year partnership with a program that provided wraparound services for students and their families. The One-4-All Center in downtown Claremont houses a pre-school, a drop-in play space, a teen homework support program, parenting classes, and a mentoring program. Anticipating revenue reductions and increased costs in next year’s budget, the district announced last week that it would cease contributing $152,422 in annual funds to the program, The Eagle Times reported last week. Director Cathy Pellerin said she was disappointed that the program hadn’t had a chance to demonstrate its value to the school system: The first children to attend the One-4-All preschool program will enter kindergarten in the fall of 2021.

School district meetings may take place indoors — At least one New Hampshire school district is planning to hold its annual meeting indoors, citing logistical difficulties in holding remote sessions, and others are likely to follow suit, the Valley News reported last week. The Lebanon School District recently posted an announcement on its website indicating that the school district meeting will be held in person on Jan. 30. A law passed last year allows municipalities and school districts to conduct business remotely, but many town and school officials say meeting remotely presents significant hurdles. For example, people who are unfamiliar with the meeting technology or lack Internet access will be left out of the process, and voters will be unable to amend warrant articles. A new bill that would give town and school officials more leeway in postponing meetings is in the works, but it isn’t likely to pass in time for towns that have deliberative sessions scheduled for this month to take advantage of it. 


Inside the Effort to Find and Help Disengaged Youth
Education Week, Christina Samuels, Jan. 6, 2021

Pandemic’s toll shows up on students’ college applications
Associated Press, Carolyn Thompson, Jan. 12, 2021

Witnessing history: Teachers and students left reeling, looking for answers in an insurrection
Chalkbeat, Chalkbeat staff, Jan. 7, 2021