In this week’s NH education news brief: Senate to hold hearing on school voucher bill; states grapple with assessment plans; teachers in one district find a hands-on way to raise reading scores; and students write letter opposing voucher bill.
Senate to take up voucher bill — The Senate is forging ahead with its version of a statewide voucher bill, SB 130, which would create a universal voucher program in New Hampshire. The proposal would require the state to create taxpayer-funded “Education Freedom Accounts,” giving parents between $3,700 and $8,400 per student in state funding to use for private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and other school-related expenses.
The bill is nearly identical to HB 20, which was introduced in the House this session. Often, high-priority bills get introduced in both the House and the Senate in case one doesn’t make it through the process. That happened with HB 20 — fierce opposition and concerns over the technical details led the House Education Committee to shelve the bill last week. Thus, the Senate is moving forward with SB 130.
The public fiercely opposed HB 20 during its public hearing in February, noting that the bill included no protections for students, less transparency and oversight of taxpayer dollars, and almost no accountability for ensuring that programs funded by taxpayer dollars would be used appropriately or effectively. Despite the opposition, the Senate continues to pursue the program with SB 130.
Register support or opposition or to testify here.
Annual assessment plans in flux across country — As schools round out a year of pandemic learning, states are wrestling with how best to conduct annual standardized tests. The U.S. Department of Education announced last week that states will not be permitted to cancel standardized tests this year, while explaining that it will allow flexibility in how the tests are administered and used. Some states are planning to offer online assessments, while others are considering measures such as extending the testing window and offering the test in the evening to get more students to take the assessments. A few have asked the federal government for waivers. The New Hampshire Department of Education has published guidance for required in-person assessments. Performance Assessments of Competency Education (PACE) have been paused for this year, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress for grades 4, 8 and 12 has been cancelled.
Educators are concerned about how to administer tests fairly in either online or in-person formats, as well as how to interpret and use the results. While many school leaders acknowledge that assessments provide important accountability measures for schools and may show where learning gaps exist, they are also wary of linking the assessments to any sort of consequences for schools, teachers, or students.
Reading scores jump in one district, thanks to at-home book deliveries — The Portsmouth NH School District is averaging higher reading scores than before the pandemic following a summer book book-delivery initiative led by teachers. Concerned that students who had disengaged during the pandemic would suffer even greater learning loss during the summer, teachers from three Portsmouth elementary schools paid regular visits to families, dropping off grade-level books while also trying to build connections. According to district data, 81% of Portsmouth’s 3-5 graders are reading at grade level or higher, as compared with 79% last January.
Students write letter opposing school voucher bill — A group of high school students from about a dozen public schools is among the thousands of New Hampshire residents who have expressed opposition to school voucher legislation that would create the most expansive voucher system in the country and drain millions of dollars from public schools. A letter signed by more than 40 young people and addressed to the House Education Committee, reads, “HB 20 is a voucher system that would strip our valued and ever-necessary public schools of hundreds of thousands of dollars each, and quite possibly more.” HB 20 was retained by the House Education Committee last week, but an identical bill has been introduced in the Senate. The public hearing for that bill, SB 130, is scheduled for March 2 at 9 a.m.
Women Senators highlight education cuts in Governor’s budget — At a virtual press conference last week, the Women of the Senate Democratic Caucus pointed out funding cuts to education, among other cuts they say will be damaging to women and families, in the Governor’s proposed budget. Spending on education in the proposed budget for FY 22-23 is $41 million less than in the current biennial budget, Sen. President Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) reported. Additionally, the budget reduces aid to the University and Community College System by $17.6 million. “These cuts have a direct impact on women, families, and the economy broadly,” she said. Researchshows that women have been hit especially hard by the economic effects of the pandemic.
Stress cited as top cause for teachers calling it quits — A new survey by the RAND Foundation finds that pandemic-related stress was the number one reason teachers exited the teaching profession last year. Of about 1,000 teachers surveyed, almost half who had left the profession cited the pandemic, and the majority of those mentioned stress as the main factor. About a third of teachers who’d left the field early due to the pandemic said they were “definitely willing” to return when staff and students were vaccinated.
THIS WEEK AT THE (VIRTUAL) STATE HOUSE
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
9 a.m. Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee Public Hearing on SB 130, the statewide voucher bill. Listen in via Zoom here, register your opposition to the bill, or email written testimony to the Committee Chair, Ruth Ward: Ruth.Ward@leg.state.nh.us
Thursday, March 4, 2021
9:00 a.m. CACR 3, relative to use of money raised by taxation for education. Providing that money raised by taxation may be applied for the use of religious educational institutions.
11:15 a.m. HB 388, which would allow families to pursue placement at an approved private school under a manifest educational hardship.
1:00 p.m. HB 455, relative to the ability of a parent to enroll a child in the public school of their choice.
1:45 p.m. HB 282, allowing school districts to include religious schools in town tuitioning programs.
WHAT WE’RE READING
How the pandemic has altered school discipline — perhaps forever
Hechinger Report, Caroline Preson and Sarah Butrymowicz, Feb. 20, 2021
How This District Leader Transformed Teacher PD
Education Week, Elizabeth Heubeck, Feb. 17, 2021
Homeroom: How to Teach Your Kid to Love Reading
The Atlantic, Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer, Feb. 23, 2021
Parents can care about education and still be OK writing this school year off
Boston Globe, Christine Koh, Feb. 24, 2021