NH Education Roundup, March 29, 2021

In this week’s NH Education Roundup: ConVal case heads back to lower court, poll shows NH residents oppose school vouchers, Senate Education Committee holds hearing on school nurse bill and civics bill, and House Education Committee discusses funding fixes.

NH Supreme Court sends ConVal case back to lower court for full trial — The New Hampshire Supreme Court issued a ruling on the ConVal lawsuiton Tuesday, March 23, ordering the case back to the Cheshire County Superior Court for a full trial. Filed in March 2019 by the ConVal School District in Peterborough, the suit claims that the state does not fully fund a constitutionally “adequate” education. The Cheshire County Superior Court ruled in the school district’s favor in June 2019, but both sides appealed the case. Twenty-six New Hampshire school districts, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the New Hampshire School Boards Association eventually signed onto an amicus brief in support of the suit, and the New Hampshire Supreme Court heard oral arguments last September. In issuing the ruling, the Supreme Court found that the underlying facts of the case are “vigorously disputed,” making it impossible to issue a summary judgment (a judgment without a full trial), which the state had requested. The ruling means school districts will have to wait months or years for resolution of the lawsuit.

Poll shows NH residents oppose school vouchers — A new UNH Granite State Poll finds that nearly half (45%) of New Hampshire residents do not support school vouchers like those proposed by Senate Bill (SB) 130, compared with 35% who support the concept (15% did not know enough to express an opinion). Only about 28% of survey respondents who identified themselves as “moderate” said they support vouchers, while 51% said they oppose them. SB 130 would give taxpayer funds to families to pay for private school and homeschool expenses. The Senate passed, then tabled the bill earlier this month, presumably to fold it into the state budget, a move that would reduce the amount of scrutiny it receives going forward. A Reaching Higher analysis published earlier this month found that the program could cost the state more than $69 million in new spending over three years, while school districts would lose more than $13 million in state aid during the same time period. 

Senate Ed holds hearings on school nurse credentials, civics assessment — The Senate Education Committee heard testimony last week on a bill that would change required credentials for school nurses. Sponsors of HB 349 said the current requirements, which went into effect a few years ago, create undue hardships for schools and have caused some schools to rename the school nurse position to get around certification requirements. Some senators expressed concern about changing the requirements, particularly during a pandemic and related mental health crisis. Additionally, Sen. Jay Kahn (D-Keene) questioned the assertion that schools are having a hard time filling school nurse positions.

A bill that would require all NH high school students to pass a civics assessment as a prerequisite for graduation also went before the Senate Education Committee last week. Bill sponsor Rep. Mike Moffett (R-Loudon) cited a widespread lack of knowledge about civics and said that current laws requiring a civics course in high school do not ensure young people are learning the basics about government and civic responsibility. While the concept was met with bipartisan support, some senators said they were hesitant to create an additional graduation requirement. 

Choosing adventures, paving new pathways — Choices and challenges abound for young people as they consider future schooling and careers. Several developments in the legislature, including bills related to career and technical education, dual and concurrent enrollment funding, and a proposed college system merger, could affect student trajectories.  Reaching Higher’s two-part series looks at the changing infrastructure of career pathways and how educators are working to ensure students have a clear roadmap to success.

School funding fixes floated in House Ed — A bill and set of amendments that aim to fill funding gaps to school districts was introduced to the House Education Committee last week. SB 135, which was passed by the Senate earlier this month, would instruct the state to use the higher of this year’s or last year’s enrollment numbers and Free and Reduced-Price lunch numbers to set adequacy funding for school districts for the coming biennium. Three amendments introduced during a public hearing/work session last Thursday would address additional funding gaps by directing additional aid to communities that need it most based on measures of poverty and equalized property valuation. 

New Hampshire schools face a funding shortfall of $89 million this year due largely to pandemic-related causes. Many of the communities seeing the largest losses have also been hit the hardest economically by the pandemic.

“Being able to direct state dollars to where they’re needed most is good for students and it’s good for property taxpayers,” Rep. David Luneau (D-Hopkinton), who proposed two of the amendments, told the Committee. 

The bill appeared to have bi-partisan support. “We’re all recognizing that we need to do something with this,” said House Education Committee Chair Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill). “We’ve been battling this particular issue for years.”

Nearly 400 people signed on in support of the bill, and six signed on in opposition. 

Schools receive first batch of federal funds, other federal assistance — At a National Safe School Reopening Summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Education last week, Pres. Joe Biden announced the release of the first round of American Rescue Plan funds for schools. New Hampshire schools will receive about $233 million of a promised $350 million in the first disbursement. Also at the summit, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced a new Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative designed to help states use ARP funds to effectively reach students disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Cardona, who is pushing to get as many schools open as possible this spring, said he plans to visit school districts around the country in the coming weeks to learn about their reopening plans, successes, and challenges.

Finance Committee revises college merger proposal — The House Division II Finance Committee tapped the brakes on Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposalto merge the University System of New Hampshire with the Community College System of New Hampshire at a meeting last Wednesday. Citing concerns about the pace of the proposed merger, Committee members approved an amendment that appoints a commission to study the merger and propose legislation next year. The amendment appropriates $1.5 million for the commission and increases state funding for the two systems by $11 million. It keeps the two systems separate for the coming biennium. A House Education subcommittee studying the merger for the past few weeks has raised questions about the timeline of the proposal, the proposed governance structure, and the effects of the merger on the Community College System’s ability to serve its unique student population. 

The Committee also restored $3 million to the Governor’s STEM Scholarship Program, which was defunded in the Governor’s budget, by removing money from the Public School Infrastructure Fund.

Education Up Close

Our Kids Are Not Broken
The Atlantic, Ron Berger, March 20, 2021

D.C. Summer Jobs Program Will Pay Kids to Take Classes as City Combats Learning Loss
The 74, Taylor Swaak, March 25, 2021

Early Legislative Trends for K-12 Funding
Ed Note, Eric Syverson, March 24, 2021

Report Shows How COVID-19 Is Affecting the Community College Experience
Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Lois Elfman, March 25, 2021

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