NH Education Roundup, April 26, 2021

In this week’s NH Education News Roundup: RHNH analysis finds that the state voucher bill, SB 130, would disproportionately affect cities and rural towns, Senate Finance announces public hearing date on state budget, more districts join ConVal lawsuit, and schools prepare for a potential influx of kindergarteners. 

Reaching Higher analysis shows SB 130 could hit cities and rural towns hardest — A district-by-district analysis released last week by Reaching Higher finds that SB 130, the statewide school voucher bill, could disproportionately affect rural districts, districts that serve large proportions of low-income students, and districts that have lower capacity to raise revenue through taxes (often referred to as “property-poor” communities). SB 130 would create taxpayer-funded “Education Freedom Accounts” for low- and moderate-income families to use for private school and homeschool expenses. The bill was passed by the Senate last month, then laid on the table with the expectation that it would be included in the state’s 2022-2023 budget “trailer” bill, HB 2. According to Reaching Higher NH’s previous analysis, the program could cost the state $65 million over three years in new spending for vouchers for students already enrolled in public and home-school options. Reaching Higher held an information session on SB 130 last week. A recorded webinar will soon be available on our website.

Last chance for public input on state budget — The Senate Finance Committee will hold what is expected to be its sole public hearing on the state budget on Tuesday, May 4. This will be the last chance for the public to testify on the proposal, which lays out the state spending priorities for the 2022-2023 biennium, as well as other legislation that was added by the House. 
The key budget items for education are school vouchers (Senators are expected to add Senate Bill 130 as an amendment), school funding (the House version restores $16 million of an $89 million drop, but other proposals are being considered), and House Bill 544, the “divisive concepts” bill that was added by the House and would prohibit schools from teaching about and offering trainings on systemic racism and sexism. 

The public hearing is scheduled for May 4, and the Senate is offering two times for signups: 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Use this link to sign up (Click on May 4 -> Senate Finance -> then, choose your time (1 p.m. HB 2 or 6 p.m. HB 2) 

Schools brace for a big batch of kindergarteners — With schools beginning to return to pre-pandemic operations, many are expecting an influx of kindergarteners. While public school enrollment overall declined by about 4% during the 2020-21 school year, kindergarten enrollment declined by almost 15%, according to the Department of Education. Some educators are predicting outsize kindergarten classes next year and are gearing up to meet the needs of kindergarteners and first graders who were kept home. 

New districts join ConVal lawsuit; trial could start next summer — Two school districts, The Fall Mountain and Claremont School Districts, have signed onto the ConVal lawsuit, which was sent back to the Cheshire County Superior Court for a full trial in a Supreme Court ruling last month. The lawsuit, filed in 2019 by the ConVal School District and three other school districts in the Southwestern part of the state, challenges the way the state pays for education. The Cheshire County Superior Court ruled in the school districts’ 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. At a status conference last week, a Superior Court judge said the trial isn’t likely to start until next summer. The Claremont School District is one of the five school districts that sued the state over education funding in the early 90s. Several more districts are also considering joining the ConVal suit, according to Michael Tierney, attorney for the school districts. 

Several school districts permitted to continue hybrid schedules — While the majority of schools returned to full-time, in-person learning last week, a few schools or school districts have received waivers from the NH Department of Education, NH Division of Public Health, and the Governor’s office to continue operating in a hybrid format. Three school districts received waivers — Manchester, Keene, and Milton — while the remaining schools are charter schools or private special education providers.

New podcast episode tells story of NH’s school privatization movement — A new episode of Have You Heard, a national education podcast created by Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, digs deep into the Free State Project and its connections with current school choice legislation. In “State of Siege: What the Free State Project Means for New Hampshire’s Public Schools,” Schneider and Berkshire speak with NH lawmakers, journalists, school board members, and activists, tracing the roots of the libertarian movement in New Hampshire and discussing its potential implications for public education.

Join us for our next New Hampshire Education Network meeting— The next meeting of the New Hampshire Education Network is scheduled for Monday, May 3, at 3 p.m. Launched in March by the Reaching Higher team, the network is a group of educators, elected officials, parents, community leaders and members of the public who share an interest in public education. Each month we provide updates and information on key education issues and conduct small-group discussions. Register to be part of the network here

Governor signs bill to create CTE study committee — On Friday, April 23, Governor Sununu signed HB 304, which would create a legislative committee to study the way New Hampshire funds Career and Technical Education (CTE), as well as transportation to CTE centers. “The inspiration for this legislation is due to the fact that we know communities throughout our state receive absolutely no tuition money, by way of this funding pool, for CTE,” bill sponsor Rep. Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill) told a Senate committee in March. The committee will begin their work this summer, and has until November 2022 to report out its findings. 

This Week’s Legislative Schedule

Monday, April 26, 2021

Senate Finance 3:15 p.m.
Join the Zoom Webinar
The NH Department of Education will provide a budget presentation to the Senate Finance Committee on the state budget. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Senate Education 9:00 a.m.
Join the Zoom Webinar

  • HB282, relative to a private school that is approved as a tuition program.
  • HB388, relative to changing a pupil’s school or assignment because of a manifest educational hardship.
  • HB319, requiring students in the university and community college systems of New Hampshire to pass the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services civics naturalization test.
  • HB321, requiring school districts to submit an annual report concerning gifted and talented students.
  • HB464, relative to the Commission to Study School Funding.

Senate Finance 1:00 p.m.
Join the Zoom Webinar
The University System and Community College System of NH will provide a budget presentation to the Senate Finance Committee on the state budget. 

Education Up Close

OPINION: Separating ‘gifted’ children hasn’t led to better achievement
The Hechinger Report, Jo Boaler, Nov. 4, 2019

SPECIAL REPORT: How Pandemic Tech Use Is Shaping K-12 Education
Education Week, April 21, 2021

Creating Equitable Classroom Environments
Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Donna Ford and Brian L. Wright, April 22, 2021

As Biden eyes infrastructure, recent research suggests students’ environments really do matter for learning
Chalkbeat, Matt Barnum, April 14, 2021