NH Education Roundup, May 3, 2021

A kindergarten teacher assigns students to the different activity centers they want to explore. Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

In this week’s NH Education News Roundup: Reaching Higher joins in thanking teachers; last chance to testify on state budget; closing the digital divide remains an elusive goal; and schools struggle to fill substitute teacher positions.

Reaching Higher joins in celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week — The Reaching Higher team wishes to express our deepest gratitude to teachers in recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week. In our work supporting public education, we are privileged to meet and build relationships with teaching professionals around the state and are keenly aware of the role they play and the challenges they face, this past year in particular. We know we’re not alone in our desire to share our gratitude. If you’d like to take a moment to show your appreciation for a current or former teacher, visit The Teacher Appreciation Project.

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) 

No easy solutions for bridging NH’s digital divide  — Lawmakers and town and school leaders are still wrestling with how best to alleviate the disparities in Internet access exposed by the pandemic. Tight deadlines on CARES Act money designated for broadband spending meant that some communities were not able to take advantage of the funds. With a new round of federal funds on the way, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow towns to pay for 50% of a qualifying project with a matching grant. Some legislators, however, are concerned that the money won’t be distributed equitably. Some rural areas in the state still lack reliable Internet access, a reality many school districts have been forced to confront during periods of remote- and hybrid-learning.

Wealthy, white students overrepresented in Manchester, Nashua charter schools — Almost all of the charter schools in Manchester and Nashua serve student bodies that are less diverse and wealthier than those of the local district schools, according to data compiled by the Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. Enrollment of Black and Latino students is about half that of the district public schools at most of the nine charter schools in Manchester and Nashua, and the charter school with the highest percentage of students navigating poverty recently announced it will close at the end of this school year. 

“The data, collected from state reports, contradict claims of charter school advocates who paint the schools as an alternative for disadvantaged students in struggling inner-city schools,” The Union Leader reported last week.

Vermont Board of Ed ruling does little to clarify ambiguities around religious school tuition — Illustrating the growing complexities around school choice and religious education, The Vermont State Board of Education has ordered three public school districts to pay tuition for students attending religious schools. School officials told the Valley News that the April 21 order offers little guidance on how to determine whether a religious school is abiding by a 1999 Vermont Supreme Court ruling that public funds can be used for secular programming at religious schools but not for religious worship or education. 

The case is one of several recent efforts to steer public funds to religious schools, following the June 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states cannot exclude religious institutions from participating in voucher programs that allow parents to independently choose where to use their public funds. Some of the same families who filed appeals to the Vermont Board of Education have also filed lawsuits in federal court.

In New Hampshire, a number of efforts to remove the wall between public funds and religious institutions are underway. In September 2020, a family from Croydon, NH, sued the NH Department of Education for barring religious schools from receiving public school tuition funds. The Republican-controlled NH Legislature has also introduced several bills that take aim at the religious school exception, including a proposal to strike the Blaine Amendment, which prohibits state funding of religious schools, from the state Constitution. 

Substitute teacher shortage contributed to school reopening struggles — Schools that had difficulty meeting the mandate to open for full-time in-person learning by the April 19 deadline cited a lack of substitute teachers as a major factor, the Union Leader reported last week. Filling substitute teacher positions, which typically pay less than many retail jobs, has been a challenge throughout the pandemic, school leaders said. Investing in long-term subs, offering significant pay increases, and providing additional training have helped some schools fill the gaps. 

New study shows principal bias against Black parents —  A study published last month found that school principals were 7% more likely to respond to emails received from people with stereotypically white-sounding names than from people with stereotypically Black-sounding names. The study, conducted by two political scientists in an effort to gauge racial bias in public schools, consisted of email inquiries sent to a nationally representative sample of 3,600 high school principals. When the inquiries were sent from a fictional “Emily Walsh” regarding enrolling her son “Greg,” 64% of principals responded; when the emails were sent from a fictional “Tamika Washington” regarding enrolling her son “Jamal,” 57% of principals responded. The difference between the response rates was 9% among white principals. The study contributes to a growing body of evidence demonstrating implicit bias in schools and other institutions.

Alternative proposal to college merger presented to Senate Finance Committee — A new proposal presented to the Senate Finance Committee last week would streamline higher education in New Hampshire by creating a Higher Education Coordinating Council, which would build clear pathways for students, strengthen collaboration, and maintain the University System and Community College System’s distinct missions and purposes. The proposal, which was introduced by Community College System Interim Chancellor Susan Huard, will be considered by the Senate Finance Committee in the coming weeks as it continues to build the state’s operating budget. 

Governor Chris Sununu’s state budget proposal included a plan to merge the University System and Community College System into one unified system by July 1, 2021. 

Following considerable pushback on the Governor’s plan, House lawmakers proposed slowing down the process by forming a study committee that would address the concerns and, if the committee felt it was appropriate, merge the systems by July 2023.  

The Community College’s Coordinating Council model would go one step further, keeping the two systems separate but serving as a unified body for planning, coordination, and accountability.

“We think it’s in the best interest of this state that the Community College System and the University System work together,” Huard told lawmakers on Tuesday, April 27. “We each have distinct missions, but we need to be partners.”

The Committee will work to include one of the proposals (or, its own) into the state budget, which is expected to go before the full Chamber for a vote by late May. 

The public has two opportunities to weigh in on this and other budget-related issues during the Committee’s public hearings on Tuesday, May 4, at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Instructions on how to testify are available on the General Court website

To help inform the dialogue around the proposed merger and offer important information on state, regional, and national trends in higher education, Reaching Higher will hold a Higher Education Roundtable on Wednesday, May 19, at 1 p.m. This event is open to the public and will be held virtually via Zoom. Registration is free, but required. Register via Zoom: https://bit.ly/NHhigheredroundtable

This Week’s Legislative Schedule

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the state budget. The committee is expected to add the statewide voucher bill, SB 130, into the state budget, despite overwhelming public opposition to the taxpayer-funded accounts that would be used to pay for private school tuition, homeschool expenses, and other nonpublic school expenses. The committee also seeks public input on school funding, since the state’s public schools are facing an $89 million drop in state funding this fall. 

Read more about the voucher bill
Read more about school funding

Senate Education 9:00 a.m.
Click here to join the Zoom
This is an Executive Session for pending Senate legislation.

Senate Finance 1:00 p.m.
Click here to join the Zoom
This is the public hearing for the state budget.

Senate Finance 6:00 p.m.
Click here to join the Zoom
This is the public hearing for the state budget.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Senate Session 10:00 a.m.
Click here to join livestream

  • On the consent calendar: HB 464, dissolving the Commission to Study School Funding
  • On the regular calendar: No education-related bills 

Friday, May 7, 2021

Senate Capital Budget Department of Education 11:15 a.m.
Click here to join the Zoom

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

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