NH Education Roundup, April 12, 2021

Rep. Latha Mangipudi (D-Nashua) asks a question during a House session on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. The House passed a state budget that restores some funding to public education and voted on several education bills during a three-day session last week. 

In this week’s NH Education News Roundup: Schools dispute reopening order; Board of Education considers holocaust and genocide education rules; House passes budget with partial restoration of school funding; and Senate passes civic assessment graduation requirement. 

Schools push back on reopening order, Sununu doubles down — Some school districts have indicated they will not be able to comply with Gov. Chris Sununu’s order that all NH schools be open five days a week by April 19.  The Monadnock Regional School District sent a letter to NH Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut last week stating that the district plans to return to full-time in-person learning on May 3. Superintendent Lisa Witte said the decision, which was approved by the school board, is meant to ensure all staff are fully vaccinated before reopening. Numerous other school districts have requested waivers from the mandate last week, citing safety concerns or staffing shortages. 

At a press briefing on April 8, Sununu did not appear open to concessions. “If schools are insisting on doing that beyond the 19th, it’s just not going to count,” he said, evidently referring to the 180 hour minimum requirement for schools to be in session.

State Board of Education discusses holocaust and genocide education, completes review of CSI schools — The State Board of Education considered an initial proposal for incorporating holocaust and genocide education into the criteria for an adequate education at its April 8 meeting. Last June, the state passed a law requiring holocaust and genocide education and created a commissioner to draft model school district policies, recommend rules to the State Board, and identify best practices and materials. The Board was not required to vote on the initial proposal and did not discuss it in detail, but offered general observations about age-appropriateness, wording of the rules, and the complexity and nuance of the topic. 

“I think it’s incredibly important that we help students and people in general understand that it’s very easy to put evil in a different group as opposed to how banal it actually is, and how seemingly innocuous,” said Board Member Phillip Nazzaro. “I think it’s a delicate topic.”

NH is one of 17 states that have adopted legislation regarding holocaust and genocide education. Board members plan to review other states’ policies and practices prior to their next meeting on the topic. 

The Board also heard presentations from the final two of 12 schools identified for Comprehensive Review and Support in 2018. The schools were selected based on test scores and graduation rates using data from the 2017-18 school year, in accordance with the Every Student Succeeds Act, and were then provided funding, technical assistance, and monitoring. Schools report back annually to the Board, which determines whether they have demonstrated progress on the indicators that caused them to be identified. Schools exit the program after demonstrating progress for two years.

In his report to the Board, Erik Kress, principal of Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Keene, noted that small class sizes due to the pandemic have actually allowed the school to make large gains. Students are more engaged and student behavior has markedly improved, he said. 

NH House votes on budget, education bills — The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted on numerous education-related bills during a three-day session last week. HB 1 and HB 2, the bills that will determine the state’s budget for the coming biennium, passed along party lines. The budget now heads to the Senate, which is expected to begin meeting on Monday, April 19.  The House version of the budget restores $16.7 million of the $89 million drop in school funding and adds $28 million to the School Building Aid fund to pay off a portion of existing obligations as well as fund new projects. The bill also flat-funds the Community College System and University System and creates a commission to study the effects of a possible higher education merger through the end of the year. Two amendments submitted by Rep. Mary Heath (D-Manchester) that would have further restored school funding were both killed.

The House also took the following actions: 

  • defeated an attempt to remove HB 544 from the budget; HB 544, which has been met with strong public opposition, would prevent schools and state contractors from teaching about and offering trainings on systemic racism and sexism;
  •  tabled HB 458, which would have overturned a requirement that schools provide free menstrual products for students in need;
  • passed HB 278, which would allow public charter schools to utilize vacant district facilities; 
  • passed HB 282, which removes the religious exception from a law allowing school districts to create tuition agreements with private schools, and further loosens the language; 
  • approved HB 319, which requires students in the university and community college systems of New Hampshire to pass the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services civics naturalization test, by a one-vote margin.

Senate approves civics assessment requirement, innovation schools — The NH Senate passed several education-related bills along party lines last week. Among them: HB 320, which requires a civics competency assessment as a high school graduation requirement; HB 609, which would allow schools to become “innovation schools” in order to opt-out of certain rules and laws; and HB 242, which would add subjects required under a substantive education, including logic and rhetoric, personal financial literacy, and others. The bill also codifies the State’s Learn Everywhere program into statute and defines the elements of an adequate education for school funding purposes.

Study shows benefits of project-based learning in high-need elementary schools — A new study by Lucas Education Research demonstrates the value of project-based learning in low-income elementary schools. Researchers from the University of Michigan randomly assigned 48 teachers to 20 elementary schools where at least 65% of students qualified for Free or Reduced-price Lunch. At the end of the school year, students in the project-based learning groups saw 63% gains in social studies — which translates to five to six months of additional learning — and 23% gains in informational reading — which translates to two months of additional learning. Project-based learning is a student-centered learning approach in which students solve complex, authentic problems. This study adds to a growing body of research showing the positive impact of PBL on student achievement.

Senate president suggests voucher bill could expand in future years — Questioned about school vouchers in an interview on NHPR’s The Exchangelast week, Sen. President Chuck Morse (R-Salem) said that he’s willing to explore increasing voucher payments for students who can’t afford private school with the amount designated in the current proposal. The proposal that was rolled into the budget following staunch opposition at two public hearings provides roughly $5,130 per child in taxpayer funded “Education Freedom Accounts.” About 38% of NH students would be eligible for the vouchers based on family income, which is capped at 300% of the federal poverty guidelines, according to a Reaching Higher analysis. Increasing voucher payments could mean families receive more money for private school tuition than public schools receive per student. 

“If New Hampshire wants to go and fully fund a decision like that, that’s the next step,” Morse said. “I’m certain we could bring legislation in.” 

In troubling trend, fewer students taking dual and concurrent enrollment classes — Participation in dual and concurrent enrollment classes nationwide flatlined last fall and then dropped by 3% this spring, according to data cited by The Hechinger Report last week. The drop is worrisome because dual and concurrent enrollment classes can dramatically reduce college costs and increase the likelihood that students will go to college, educators say. Dual enrollment “helps students move their gaze from a few feet in front of them to a point further on out on the horizon and start on that road,” Amy Williams, executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, told The Hechinger Report.  Students cited a variety of reasons for forgoing or withdrawing from dual and concurrent enrollment classes, including a lack of instructional support during the pandemic and logistical challenges.

In New Hampshire, dual and concurrent enrollment participation rates had increased sharply in recent years, due at least in part to the Governor’s STEM scholarship, which provides free tuition for up to two dual and concurrent enrollment classes in STEM-related fields per year. Gov. Sununu defunded the scholarship in his proposed budget, but funding was returned in the budget approved by the House last week. 

This Week at the (Virtual) State House

Monday, April 12, 2021

House Advisory on Career and Technical Education: 9:00 a.m.
Join the Zoom Webinar

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Senate Education: 9:00 am
Join the Zoom Webinar

  • HB 401, relative to the duty of school superintendents regarding criminal history records checks
  • HB 500, relative to reducing school food waste and addressing child hunger
  • HB 581, (new title) relative to the burden of proof in special education hearings and establishing a committee to study special education IEP and dispute resolution processes
  • HB 152, relative to the apportionment of costs in cooperative school districts

Education Up Close

The Biggest Problem for America’s Schools
The Atlantic, Adam Harris, April 6, 2021

Teacher welcomes students back to school with individualized “air handshakes
Instagram, thedopeeducator, April 2021

A Windfall, Teacher Shortages, and Uncertain Enrollments Shape Next Year’s K-12 Budgets
Education Week, Mark Lieberman, April 2, 2021

Stakeholders Call for Focus on Equity as Community Colleges Recover from COVID-19 Crisit
Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Sarah Wood, April 5, 2021

Click here to subscribe to this weekly newsletter