In this week’s NH Education News Brief: Senate presses play on universal voucher bill; Students advocate for more school funding; Governor’s budget defunds STEM scholarship program; and two funding bills are stalled.
HB 20 retained for further study; Senate voucher bill hearing announced — The House Education Committee voted unanimously last Thursday to retain a controversial voucher bill that drew unprecedented public opposition during two days of public hearings. Moments after the vote, the Senate announced a hearing for SB 130, a nearly identical bill, creating the most expansive school voucher program in the country.
At a press conference last Thursday, Gov. Sununu distanced himself from the House bill, saying that he’d had no direct input on it and hadn’t read the amendments.
The hearing for SB 130, the universal school voucher bill and the Senate’s version of HB 20, is scheduled for Tuesday, March 2, at 9 a.m. Members of the public can register their support or opposition, and register to testify, here: http://gencourt.state.nh.us/remotecommittee/senate.aspx
Students make case for more school funding — Students from around the state discussed school funding in an online forum last week. High school and college students from several schools and universities said the Governor’s proposed budget does not address critical needs created by the pandemic, including technology, staffing, and supplies. One student said her school has had to shift to online learning several times not because of COVID-19 spread but because of staffing shortages caused by quarantine requirements.
Governor’s proposed budget defunds popular STEM scholarship program— The Governor’s Dual and Concurrent Enrollment STEM Scholarship Program, which has fueled rapid growth in STEM courses across New Hampshire’s high schools, has been cut from the Governor’s proposed state budget for the 2022-2023 biennium. The STEM Scholarship Program, which allows students to take up to two free STEM courses per year for college credit, has dramatically increased access for hundreds of students, providing millions of dollars in scholarships. The Senate is currently considering a bill that would expand the STEM Scholarships to include Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses but the bill’s fate is unclear, given that the budget proposal defunds the program. The elimination of funding was discussed at a public hearing on the bill last Thursday.
Behind the numbers, stories of hard choices and harsh realities — New Hampshire is in the throes of a dramatic budget season, as local, state and federal officials deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers only hint at the struggles many educators and students are facing. Last week we revisited some stories from the past year that illustrate those struggles.
Governor orders schools open at least two days a week — In an executive order announced on Friday, Gov. Chris Sununu ordered all K-12 New Hampshire schools to offer at least two days per week of in-person learning beginning March 8. The majority of K-12 schools are already operating in a hybrid or in-person model, but a few have remained in or returned to remote due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in their communities. Teachers are in Phase 2A of New Hampshire’s vaccination program, which has not yet begun. Teachers unions have previously called on Sununu to prioritize vaccines for teachers.
A thriving school district confronts budget hardships in new podcast episode — Over the course of a few decades, the town of Hopkinton became the kind of place people move to expressly for the schools. But last spring the district faced a reckoning when voters twice rejected the school budget in drive-through meetings. Reaching Higher’s latest podcast episode investigates how the tension between high quality schools and rising taxes came to a head.
House Ed Committee approves stricter reporting requirements for charter schools — A bill that strengthens reporting requirements for charter and non-public schools received unanimous approval from the House Education Committee last Thursday. HB 442 requires that charter and non-public schools, along with public schools, submit annual statistical reports to the Department of Education and creates penalties for schools that fail to submit reports for two consecutive years. The bill comes on the heels of an investigation into a Concord charter school that failed to submit audits. That school surrendered its charter earlier this month, prior to a State Board of Education hearing on the school’s finances.
Senate passes emergency school funding bill — Last week, the Senate passed SB 135, which would allow districts to use the greater enrollment number from the 2019-2020 school year or 2020-2021 school year to determine school funding for 2022. This would preserve roughly $30 million of the $89 million drop, focusing on preserving funding losses due to dips in student enrollment due to the pandemic and a paperwork waiver that impacted the number of students who participated in the federal school meals program (Free and Reduced Lunch).
Districts are facing an additional $60 million drop in state funding because of the expiration of targeted aid to vulnerable communities. An amendment was proposed by Senator Jay Kahn (D-Keene) to preserve a portion of that funding, but it was not adopted.
Two funding bills retained amid uncertainty over budgets — The House Finance Committee voted to retain a bill aimed at filling gaps in school budgets last week; House Bill 623 would ensure that education grants to municipalities in 2022-23 would not be less than the prior year’s grant. Advocates of the bill said school leaders need immediate assurance of funds as they plan their budgets. Opponents said there are too many other factors in play at the moment, including the Governor’s proposed budget and federal relief packages. Also last week, the House Education Committee voted to retain House Bill 608, which repeals stabilization grants to schools while increasing adequacy aid, fiscal disparity aid and differentiated aid. In putting the proposal on hold, Committee members said they wanted more time to work together on the bill’s language.
Study finds mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning may be best for students — Findings from a new study seeking to draw lessons from pandemic schooling suggest that a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning may be beneficial for students. The study, a teacher survey conducted by the Christensen Institute, identified serious problems with full-time asynchronous teaching, which was largely employed in the early weeks and months of the pandemic and put too much responsibility on families. However, mixing in some asynchronous learning can help families balance their schedules and give struggling students access to extra help, as well as allowing teachers to employ student-centered technology.
THIS WEEK AT THE (VIRTUAL) STATE HOUSE
Senate: The Senate will not meet this week, but on March 2 at 9 a.m., the Senate Education Committee will hold a public hearing on SB 130, which would create the same voucher program as HB 20. Read more here.
House: Education Committee will meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday for public hearings on bills regarding reporting, advocacy in public schools, and rights of action in cases of bullying and cyberbullying. The full House will meet on Wednesday and Thursday to vote on pending legislation. Here is a look at their schedule:
HOUSE CONSENT CALENDAR
HB 304, establishing a committee to study the funding of tuition and transportation for career technical education. OUGHT TO PASS.
HB 442, relative to penalties for a school’s failure to file department of education reports. OUGHT TO PASS WITH AMENDMENT.
HOUSE REGULAR CALENDAR
HB 96-FN-A, establishing the office of school counseling and psychology, establishing the position of school counselor coordinator, and making an appropriation therefor. MAJORITY: INEXPEDIENT TO LEGISLATE. MINORITY: OUGHT TO PASS.
HB 594-FN, which would increase funding for the school building aid program and would require the NH Department of Education to adopt a 10-year plan for school facilities. OUGHT TO PASS WITH AMENDMENT.
HB 110, which would require the NH Department of Education to direct state funding directly to municipalities rather than school districts. MAJORITY: OUGHT TO PASS. MINORITY: INEXPEDIENT TO LEGISLATE.
HB 194, which would allow the NH Department of Education and testing vendors to send state assessment results directly to parents. MAJORITY: OUGHT TO PASS WITH AMENDMENT. MINORITY: INEXPEDIENT TO LEGISLATE.
HB 242, which would change some of the criteria for a content for an adequate education and would affirm the input-based model of funding. MAJORITY: OUGHT TO PASS WITH AMENDMENT. MINORITY: INEXPEDIENT TO LEGISLATE.
HB 609-FN-LOCAL, which would allow school boards to become “innovation zones” and opt-out of state laws and regulations. MAJORITY: OUGHT TO PASS. MINORITY: INEXPEDIENT TO LEGISLATE.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Will There Be Standardized Tests This Year? 8 Questions Answered
Education Week, Andrew Ujifusa and Sarah Schwartz, Feb. 9, 2021
I Actually Like Teaching on Zoom
New York Times, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Feb. 15, 2021
Being a Teacher Means Talking About Sensitive Social Issues. Here’s How.
Education Week, Laura Brady, Stephanie Fryberg, Hazel Rose Markus, Camilla Griffiths, Jenny Yang, Perla Rodriguez & Laura Mannen-Martínez, Feb. 9, 2021