NH Education Roundup, March 15, 2021

In this week’s NH Education News Brief: House Finance Committee to hold hearing on state budget; NH communities slash school budgets; bill limiting authority of school resource officers killed; NH schools will get $350 million through American Rescue Plan; and House Ed Committee hears, acts on several key education bills. 

Public hearing on proposed budget scheduled for Tuesday — The public can offer testimony on the state’s proposed operating budget for 2022-23 at a public hearing before the full House Finance Committee on Tuesday, March 16, at 1 p.m. New Hampshire public schools are facing an $89 million drop in state funding this fall, due largely to the expiration of targeted funding for our state’s most vulnerable communities. Roughly three-quarters of the drop in funding will affect vulnerable communities the most, particularly those that serve high proportions of students navigating poverty and those that have limited capacity to raise local tax revenue for schools. Public sentiment has been known to sway lawmakers crafting the budget in past years.  Register to testify using this portal and clicking on “March 16.” 

Voting day brings mixed results for NH schools — Numerous communities voted on their school district budgets last Tuesday, with many opting to cut school funding rather than raise taxes. In Pittsfield, voters opted for a stripped down operating budget that will likely result in job losses as opposed to the default budget endorsed by the school board. In Epsom, voters also rejected a budget supported by the school board. Weare voters, on the other hand, approved their proposed budget as well as a new teacher contract. School districts that have traditional school district meetings will vote on their budgets over the coming weeks.

Senate kills bill limiting authority of school resource officers — A bill that sought to define the ways school resource officers can handle matters of student discipline was killed by the Senate earlier this month. The bill would have limited the use of questioning and searches and prohibited arrests on school grounds except under specific circumstances. The practice of employing school resource officers has come under scrutiny in recent years, with some districts reconsidering the position. The Concord School Board held a hearing on Concord High School’s resource officer position this month and is currently conducting a family survey.

American Rescue Plan will send $350 million to NH schools — The federal relief package approved by Congress and signed into law by Pres. Joe Biden last week will provide an estimated $350 million in federal K-12 relief to New Hampshire schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The American Rescue Plan allocates $315 to New Hampshire school districts, $63 million of which is to be used to address “learning loss.” Another $17.5 million will be allocated to the state Department of Education to address “learning loss” statewide, and a final $7 million will be distributed by the DOE to afterschool and summer learning programs. The package also includes $800 million to support homeless homeless children with wraparound services.  

Sununu says he’d veto bill prohibiting teaching about systemic racism, sexism — In an interview on NHPR’s “The Exchange” last Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu said he’ll likely veto HB 544 if it makes it to his desk without changes. The bill, passed earlier this month by the House Executive Departments and Administration, bans “the propagation of divisive concepts” by any entity that contracts with the State of New Hampshire, including public schools. 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.” Sununu said the bill as it’s currently written limits free speech. “I’m shocked. I hate that concept,” he said. 

Reaching Higher presents history of public education in comics — As part of our growing list of resources for students and teachers, Reaching Higher has created a new history of public education in New Hampshire. Told through engaging comics and a timeline of key events, the history demonstrates the role of public education in preserving and modeling a healthy democracy.

House Ed Committee holds hearings on menstrual product bill, other controversial proposals — The public weighed in on a variety of education-related bills before the House Education Committee last week. HB 276, which reverses a bill passed in 2019 requiring public schools to provide free menstrual hygiene products in women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms, drew strong opposition, with students, medical professionals, and other advocates arguing that lack of access to these products presents a barrier to a free and equitable education. Supporters of the bill claimed that the requirement represents an unfunded mandate. 

HB 198, which would prohibit biological males from competing in all-female sports, also drew heated opposition. Rep. Rick Ladd (R-Havehill), who co-sponsored the bill, said that allowing transgender athletes to compete in all-female sports disadvantages women. Numerous female athletes and representatives of advocacy groups pushed back against Ladd’s claim, saying that the bill is discriminatory and would humiliate transgender athletes and that research does not support the notion that transgender athletes have an edge over athletes who are born female. Altogether more than 1,100 people signed on in opposition of the bill, while just 24 signed on in support.

The Education Committee also heard testimony on HB 464, which would cut short the work of the Commission to Study School Funding. Formed at the end of the 2019 legislative session, the Commission spent most of 2020 researching school funding and developing recommendations for the 2021 legislative session. The Republican-sponsored bill would delete the requirement that the Commission remain active until the legislature addresses its recommendations. 

House Ed Committee retains two key bills — The House Education Committee voted to retain HB 455, which would have allowed parents to enroll children in the public school of their choice, last Thursday. The Committee also retained HB 323, which would have required schools to provide an annual report of individual student performance on the statewide assessment. Members did not hold a vote on HB 282, which would remove the religious exception from a bill signed into law in 2017 that allows districts without a public school option to send students to private schools using taxpayer dollars.

New state-by-state analysis offers insights on work-based learning programs — American Student Assistance has released a new report that provides a state-by-state analysis of work-based learning programs. Working to Learn and Learning to Work identifies several key themes across state programs, including a lack of specific initiatives to remove barriers for high-needs students, a lack of quality accountability and data-collection systems, and a need to better communicate work-based learning opportunities to students. ASA will present a webinar on its findings on Tuesday, March 16, from 2 to 3 p.m. Register here.

Sununu says college system merger will remove student barriers — In an interview on NHPR’s “The Exchange” last week, Gov. Chris Sununu explained his rationale for the proposed merger between the University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System of New Hampshire. He said the move would cut costs by combining administrative systems as well as creating more seamless pathways for students. Transferring credits from a community college to a university is currently a convoluted process, Sununu said. “Why have a barrier if you don’t need it?” he said.

Study group begins examining college merger proposal — Questions appear to be growing about the Governor’s proposed merger of the University System of NH (USNH) and the Community College System of NH (CCSNH).  On Friday, the House Education Committee held a meeting of a small study group on post-secondary education. Study group members include: Representatives Ladd, Moffet, Ford, Myler, Luneau and Ellison. The Representatives invited the former Chancellor of the University System, Edward McKay, who worked for the system for over 36 years and served as Chancellor from 2009-2013.  McKay spoke about the commitments of CCSNH and USNH to both productivity and efficiency, highlighting deep evidence of quality learning within already lean systems.  In a statement during the work session, McKay noted, “If there are cost savings from this merger they will be incremental, no substantive financial savings will occur and there is no evidence that supports this.”

In response to the proposed merger and notification that House Education was holding a work session to study the matter, The Alliance for College and Career Readiness completed a literature review focused on three essential questions:

  1. What is the value of a community college education?
  2. Who else is considering such mergers and what do those case studies reveal?
  3. What role will community colleges play in rebuilding the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic?  

The full report may be found here.


Lawsuit Challenging N.Y.C. Segregation Targets Gifted Programs
New York Times, Eliza Shapiro, March 9, 2021

The American Rescue Plan: What’s in it for K-12 Schools?
Ed Note, Chris Duncomb, March 11, 2021

There Is No Playbook for How to Do Hybrid Teaching
Education Week, Larry Ferlazzo, March 9, 2021