NH Education Roundup, May 17, 2021

The NH Senate discusses legislative proposals during a session on May 13, 2021.

In this week’s NH Education Roundup, Senate passes bills allowing religious schools to receive public tax dollars, more schools respond to “divisive concepts” bill, ConVal lawsuit gains momentum, and charities team up to offer free community college classes to graduating seniors. 

Still time to register for virtual town hall on NH’s school voucher bill — Reaching Higher NH will host a virtual town hall on Senate Bill 130, the statewide school voucher bill, on Tuesday, May 18, from 3-4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Register here

If you have questions that you’d like answered during the event, email them to christina@reachinghighernh.org and we’ll do our best to incorporate them.

Senate passes bill removing religious school exclusion from tuition agreements — Religious schools will be allowed to contract with public school districts under two bills passed by the Senate in a 14-0 vote last week. HB 282 removes the exclusion of religious schools from a law allowing school districts to send students to approved private schools when there is no public school option for their grade level. Opponents argued that the bill violates the state constitution and that it contains no language prohibiting school districts from setting up a religious school as the only option for students at a particular grade level. HB 388 allows parents to pursue a manifest education hardship at a religious school. 

The Senate also passed HB 182, which requires school districts to grant credit for courses taken at approved public and private schools, and HB 581, which shifts the burden of proof in special education hearings from parents to the school district. The bill also creates a study committee to explore special education and dispute resolution processes.

All four bills are now headed to the Governor’s desk.

Senate Education Committee approves several House bills — The Senate Education Committee passed House bills related to bullying, charter school facilities, and gifted and talented students last week. HB 321 would require school districts to submit an annual report concerning gifted and talented students, “having unique academic, artistic, or athletic potential.”  Committee members raised some concerns about how schools would assess athletic potential in particular but passed the bill, which was amended to clarify some of the language, by a 5-0 vote. The Committee also passed HB 278, which would allow public charter schools to utilize unused school district facilities; and HB 140, which allows families to take legal action against school districts that demonstrate gross negligence or willful misconduct pertaining to incidents of bullying. HB 349, which concerns credentials for school nurses, was put on hold until this week’s session.

More school districts respond to HB 544 — School districts around the state continue to wrestle with the implications of HB 544, a bill that would prohibit discussion of “divisive topics” such as systemic racism and sexism. The Manchester School Board is considering publicly opposing the bill, and other school leaders say they’ve been hearing from parents on the topic. The Oyster River School District became the first school district to sign a letter opposing HB 544 last week, and the Concord School Board and SAU 70, which serves Hanover (and Norwich, Vt.), have both approved resolutions opposing the bill.

Attorney General’s Office upholds legality of masks in school — The Attorney General’s Office has quashed a claim that requiring face masks in schools violates a law prohibiting the use of restraints in school. Several school districts received calls from families after a conservative website and some Republican lawmakers posted references to RSA 126-U:4, which prohibits restraints that can interfere with a child’s breathing. 

Reaching Higher preparing for NH Gives — Reaching Higher is once again participating in NH Gives, a statewide, 24-hour fundraising event for non-profits. On June 8-9, you can support our mission to ensure that all NH children have access to a high quality education by making a tax-deductible donation. 

ConVal lawsuit continues to grow — At least three more school districts plan to sign onto a lawsuit challenging the way the state funds education. Superintendents in the Grantham and Newport school districts told the Valley News last week that they plan to join 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 Derry Cooperative School District, the third largest school district in the state, also announced last week that it is joining the lawsuit. Initially filed in 2019 by the ConVal School District and three other districts in the Southwestern part of the state, the lawsuit reached the Supreme Court after both sides appealed a Cheshire County Superior Court ruling in the school districts’ favor. 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 month, a Superior Court judge said the trial isn’t likely to start until next summer. The Claremont School District joined the lawsuit last month, and several more districts are also considering signing on, according to Michael Tierney, attorney for the school districts. 

‘Gift to the Class of 2021’ provides free community college classes for graduating seniors — Members of this year’s graduating class can take one free community college course thanks to a partnership between the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Foundation for New Hampshire Community Colleges. The “Gift to the Class of 2021” will provide more than $1 million in tuition and other fees at any of the seven colleges in the Community College System of NH. Any graduating senior, including students already in a community college for the fall, can take a three-credit course of their choice at no cost to them. Registration is now open.

Amendment would slow down college merger — A new amendment would extend the deadline for Higher Education Merger Assessment Commission’s work and ensure that members of the commission have expertise in higher education. Under the new amendment, proposed by Sen. Lou D’Allesandro (D- Manchester), the commission would have until January 2022 to form recommendations about if and how to merge the state’s University System and Community College System. Additionally, members of the commission would have to have experience in higher education governance or administration, or “extensive experience” in two- or four-year institutions.

First proposed in the Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget, the merger has been a sticking point for budget writers this session. The House proposed a six-month slowdown of the process. The proposal is now in the hands of the Senate Finance Committee, which is working under a deadline to deliver a full state budget, including how to handle the merger, before the Senate’s June 3 deadline.

Study finds test optional policies have minimal effect on diversity — A new study by the American Educational Research Journal finds that test-optional college admissions policies have done little to increase diversity in student populations. Colleges and universities are increasingly doing away with SAT and ACT scores as admission requirements, and that trend has accelerated during the pandemic. The study, published last month, found that admissions of Black, Latino, and Native American students increased by just 1% at colleges and universities that adopted the policy between 2005 and 2016. Similarly, admissions of low-income students increased by only 1% compared with schools that continued to require test scores. Experts say that other admissions requirements such as participation in extracurricular activities and advanced placement courses also tend to benefit wealthier students. 

Alliance to host Higher Education Roundtable — The NH Alliance for College and Career Readiness will host a Higher Education Roundtable on Wednesday, May 19, at 1 p.m. to provide important information on state, regional, and national trends in higher education, particularly around workforce development, access, and institutional consolidations. The roundtable aims to inform the dialogue around the proposed merger of the University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System of NH.  The Alliance has purposefully invited new voices to this event in an effort to expand the dialogue and engage with guests not directly involved with the proposed merger of NH’s two systems.  

Speakers for the event include:

  • Michael Turmelle, Director of Education and Career Initiatives, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation
  • Brian Prescott, Vice President, National Center For Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS)
  • Joyce Judy, President, Community College of Vermont

The panel will be moderated by Nicole Heimarck, the Executive Director of the NH Alliance for College and Career Readiness.

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 Session

Monday, May 17, 2021

Senate Finance Budget Work Session 1:00 p.m.
Click Here to Join the Zoom

This is an executive session and then a budget work session. The Department of Education is not listed, but the agency list is subject to change without notice.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Senate Education 9:00 a.m.
Click Here to Join the Zoom

This is an Executive Session for pending Senate legislation:

  • HB349, relative to certification requirements for school nurses.

Senate Finance Budget Work Session 1:00 p.m.
Click Here to Join the Zoom

This is an executive session and then a budget work session. The Department of Education is not listed, but the agency list is subject to change without notice.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Senate Finance Budget Work Session 9:00 a.m.
Click Here to Join the Zoom

This is an executive session and then a budget work session. The Department of Education is not listed, but the agency list is subject to change without notice.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Senate Session 10:00 a.m.
Click Here to Join the Livestream

Bills on the calendar: 

  • HB140, which provides parents with a private right of action in cases of bullying or cyberbullying. . The committee amended the bill to define “gross negligence” on behalf of the school.  Recommendation: PASS, 5-0. 
  • HB 278, relative to the use of unused district facilities by chartered public schools. Recommendation: PASS, 4-1. 
  • HB 321, requiring school districts to submit an annual report concerning gifted and talented students.  Recommendation: PASS, 5-0.

House Education 9:00 am
Click Here to Join the Zoom

This is an Executive Session for pending Senate legislation:

  • SB 19, relative to the degree-granting authority of Signum University.
  • SB 44, establishing the New Hampshire workforce pathway program.
  • SB 135, relative to the calculation of the cost of an opportunity for an adequate education
  • SB 147, adopting omnibus legislation relative to student aid, the central registry, transportation of students, and special education costs.
  • SB 148, adopting omnibus legislation relative to vocational and career education, environmental education, and emergency plans for sports injuries.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Senate Finance Budget Work Session 1:00 p.m.
Click Here to Join the Zoom

This is an executive session and then a budget work session. The Department of Education is not listed, but the agency list is subject to change without notice.

Learning Opportunities

WEBINAR: State Policy Initiatives for Supporting Academic Growth
Partnering for Success, June 2, 2021, 3-4 p.m.
With Linda Darling-Hammond and Charlene Russell-Tucker

Education Up Close

‘I Feel Like I’m Just Drowning:’ Sophomore Year in a Pandemic
New York Times, Susan Dominus, May 13, 2021

The Diploma Disparity: Inequity In Higher Education Costs U.S. $956 Billion Per Year, New Report Reveals
The 74, Asher Lehrer-Small, May 12, 2021

Schools Can Help Families Apply for Federal Help in Paying for Home Internet Access
Education Week, Alyson Klein, May 12, 2021

Thousands of students with disabilities are set to ‘age out’ of school. After a pandemic year, they may get more time to prepare for what’s next.
Chalkbeat, Kalyn Belsha, May 12, 2021

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