NH Education Roundup, March 9, 2021

Members of the House Education Committee discussed several bills last week, including a bill that would remove the religious exception for open enrollment schools. 

In this week’s NH Education News Brief: Education committees poised to vote on privatization bills; bill limiting instruction on racism, sexism inches closer to law; Reaching Higher’s new podcast features staff stories of pandemic learning; and Carsey Institute holds sessions on school funding. 

Committees to vote on key privatization bills this week — This week, the House and Senate Education Committees are scheduled to vote on a number of key privatization bills, including SB 130, which would create the most expansive voucher program in the country. Other proposals would allow districts to contract with religious schools, and would allow parents to pursue religious school options under the state’s Manifest Education Hardship provision at the expense of the school district and taxpayers. There was strong public opposition to all of the proposals, which had public hearings last week. 

“All these bills that we have been talking about the past few weeks all seem designed to avoid dealing with the real problem. The real problem is the structural inequities built into our system of funding education here in New Hampshire,” Rye School Board member Scott Marion said at a public hearing last week. 

Committee passes bill that would limit teaching about racism, sexism in school — The House Executive Departments and Administration passed a bill that bans “the propagation of divisive concepts” by any entity that contracts with the State of New Hampshire last Thursday. HB 544 places restrictions on how schools, among other state-funded programs, can teach about racism and sexism. It prohibits teaching that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” or that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” Opponents raised numerous concerns about the bill, including that it violates the First Amendment and that it denies the realities of discrimination, at a contentious Feb. 11 hearing. The bill now goes to the House floor for a vote. 

Reaching Higher staff share personal reflections in new podcast episode — As the United States approaches the one-year anniversary of schools closing their doors to combat COVID-19, the Reaching Higher staff took a little time to reflect on our own families’ educational experiences during the pandemic. We share heartbreak, difficult transitions, educational insights, and unexpected lessons in our latest episode of “School Talk.”

Carsey Institute, NH Listens to hold sessions on school funding — The Carsey Institute and NH Listens are holding a series of information sessions on school funding this month. Participants can learn about the work of the Commission to Study School Funding, which wrapped up a year of research and deliberation in December and submitted a report now being used to inform legislative proposals; as well as hear a variety of perspectives on school funding through small group discussions. Sessions will take place March 10, 15, and 25 at 5:30 p.m. Register here. 

New Hampshire Charitable Foundation highlights Reaching Higher’s work— A new article by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation describes the urgent need to create a more equitable public education system in New Hampshire and explains why it’s supporting the work of Reaching Higher NH as part of its “New Hampshire Tomorrow” initiative. “Gaps in opportunity and outcomes are perennial and persistent,” writes Michael Turmelle, director of education and career initiatives for the Foundation. “The COVID-19 pandemic has widened those gaps — hitting already struggling families and school districts the hardest. … Reaching Higher is nationally known for its work supporting education innovation and family and community engagement to improve learning.”

Former Trump staffer confirmed to NH DOE position — A former member of the Trump administration and advocate for school voucher programs has been confirmed as director of the Division of Learner Support at the NH Department of Education. MacKenzie Snow, who worked for the United States Department of Education for two and a half years, was confirmed by the Executive Council in a 4-1 vote last Wednesday. In her dissenting vote, Councilor Cinde Warmington highlighted Snow’s connections to the Charles Koch Foundation and other groups that fund or advocate for school privatization efforts.  

Following year of political turmoil, educators unveil “Educating for American Democracy” tool — In the wake of a divisive election season that culminated with a historic siege on the Capitol Building, a group of educators has launched a new tool for educating young people about civics. “Educating for American Democracy,” which is funded by the Department of Education and National Endowment for the Arts, provides a “blueprint” for integrated civics and history instruction from kindergarten through grade 12. One goal of the project is to add depth and more opportunities for critical thinking to school curriculum. Past attempts to revise history instruction have been accused of having unpatriotic agendas.

Network for Public Education urging Biden to reverse assessment mandate — The Network for Public Education has launched a campaign to put pressure on Pres. Joe Biden to waive standardized assessments again this year due to the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Education announced last month that states will not be permitted to cancel required standardized tests this year, while also providing some flexibility in how the tests are administered and used. States have been wrestling with logistics and questions around equity as they plan this year’s assessments. 


Making Education Research Relevant
Education Next, Daniel T. Willingham and David B. Daniel, March 2, 2021

COVID Warriors: How educators are saving the pandemic generation
The 74, Joanne Wasserman and Emmeline Zhao, Feb. 28, 2021

How Best to Reopen Schools? A Look at VT and NH
NHPR, Sarah Gibson, March 2, 2021

The Daily, Annie Brown, Sindhu Gnanasambandan and Soraya Shockley, Feb. 26, 2021

WEBCAST: Can family engagement be a game-changer for education post-COVID?
Tuesday, March 16, 2021, 10:00-11:00 a.m., Brookings Institution