NH Education Roundup, May 25, 2021

In this week’s NH Education News Roundup: NH Charitable Foundation decries failures to fairly fund education; House Ed Committee retains SB 135; more superintendents leaving or retiring; and more districts join ConVal lawsuit.

NH Charitable Foundation speaks out against efforts to defund public schools — Public schools in New Hampshire are imperiled by long-standing inequities and a recent push toward privatization, The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation reported last week. “Some schools in New Hampshire have well-paid veteran teachers, top-notch facilities, state-of-the-art equipment and resources. Some districts struggle to pay dedicated educators, have constant teacher turnover, patched-together buildings and outdated resources. The former are in wealthy towns, the latter are not,” writes Michael Turmelle, Director of Career Education and Career Initiatives for the Charitable Foundation. “Voucher programs would risk further exacerbating funding inequity in New Hampshire schools and leaving the most vulnerable children — the ones who rely most on the promise of public education — in schools with fewer resources, increasingly inadequate facilities and diminished opportunity.”

The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation is in the midst of a 10-year initiative to improve outcomes for New Hampshire children and families who face significant barriers to opportunity.

House Education Committee retains bill designed to close school funding gap — The House Education Committee voted 11-9 along party lines on Thursday, May 20, to retain a bill designed to close gaps in state funding for schools in the coming biennium. SB 135 would have restored about $45 million of the $89 million funding gap that schools are facing later this year. Additional amendments — which were not heard due to the vote to retain — would have extended targeted aid to level fund schools in 2022, and sent additional funds to the districts with the highest need. The partisan vote and the heated debate preceding it were in sharp contrast with the bill’s reception in the Senate, where it passed 24-0 in February.

State sees uptick in superintendent retirements, job changes — A higher number of superintendents are leaving their positions than usual at the end of this school year, a trend that’s consistent with national numbers and suggests the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on school officials. NHPR reported last week that more than 20 district leaders are retiring or changing jobs this year, an increase from 12 last year and nine the year before, according to the New Hampshire School Administrators Association.

Coalition asks Governor, lawmakers not to reinstate ‘donor towns’ — Five local officials have written a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu and all members of the Legislature on behalf of a coalition of 27 former “donor towns,” urging them not to consider legislation that redistributes a portion of the statewide property tax. Created in the aftermath of the Claremont lawsuits, which challenged the way the state pays for education, the statewide property tax initially relied on a formula in which the state retained excess funds collected from property-rich communities and provided additional funds to communities with less property wealth. That formula was revised following opposition by the so-called “donor towns” that raised excess funds through property taxes. Some communities fear a return to “donor towns,” following a year-long research and public-engagement initiative by The Commission to Study School Funding, which explored school funding reform. 

Four more school districts join ConVal lawsuit — The school districts of Hopkinton, Lebanon, Manchester, and Nashua have all joined a lawsuitchallenging the way the state funds education. The ConVal lawsuit, originally filed in 2019 by the ConVal School District and three other districts in the Southwestern part of the state, was sent back to the Cheshire County Superior Court for a full trial last month after being heard by the NH Supreme Court. Twenty-six New Hampshire school districts, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the New Hampshire School Boards Association signed onto an amicus brief in support of the original suit. Several school districts have joined the lawsuit in recent weeks, including the Derry Cooperative, Fall Mountain, Claremont, Grantham, and Newport School Districts.

Reaching Higher provides literature review for effective investment of federal funds — Reaching Higher New Hampshire has compiled a literature review to increase understanding of the research around academic impact loss of instructional time, as well as efforts to support student recovery and learning, including summer learning and enrichment programs, afterschool programs, and other initiatives. The resources answer key questions about how federal relief funds can be utilized on programs that are responsive to students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs. The literature review was submitted to the School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce, which had its first meeting earlier this month. 

House Ed Committee approves expansion of Career and Technical Education — The House Education Committee passed a package of proposals aimed at strengthening career and technical education programs in the state during an executive session that included several actions related to college and career readiness on Thursday, May 20, 2021. 

Senate Bill 148, an omnibus bill, provides $9 million in transportation and tuition reimbursement for career and technical education centers, a move intended to enable more students to attend CTE programs. It clarifies that the sending district is responsible for providing and paying for transportation costs and authorizes the state to fully reimburse those costs.

The bill adds career and technical education courses to the state’s established dual and concurrent enrollment program, which allows high school students to take classes for simultaneous high school and college credit. It also expands the dual and concurrent enrollment program to include students in grade 10. 

The House Education Committee also approved a proposal to encourage more high school students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Assistance (FAFSA) but removed language making the form a requirement for graduation. The amended proposal, part of SB 147, an omnibus bill, promotes in-person assistance with the FAFSA by adding it to the list of indicators of an adequate education.

Additionally, the committee retained a bi-partisan bill that would have established a workforce pathway program in the state. SB 44 would have created a program to “advance the skills and placement of unemployed and underemployed New Hampshire adults into high demand, job-entry positions” by providing free training, using a mix of federal and state funds.

Lawmakers who had originally supported the bill voiced concerns over some of the wording of the bill and funding implications. Ultimately, committee members unanimously agreed to retain the bill and create a subcommittee to iron out its language, in hopes of bringing it back next year.

Higher Education Roundtable webinar now available — On Wednesday, May 19, 2021, the New Hampshire Alliance for College and Career Readiness hosted a Higher Education Roundtable. The event provided valuable insights on the higher education landscape and key questions confronting New Hampshire. Moderated by Nicole Heimarck, Executive Director of the Alliance, the roundtable featured three panelists with different perspectives and expertise: Michael Turmelle, Director of Education and Career Initiatives for the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation; Brian Prescott, Vice President of the National Center For Higher Education Management Systems; and Joyce Judy, President of the Community College of Vermont. The recorded webinar is now available on Reaching Higher NH’s website. 

This Week’s Legislative Schedule

Monday, May 24, 2021

Senate Finance Budget Work Session 1:00 p.m.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Senate Finance Budget Work Session 1:00 p.m.
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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Senate Finance Budget Work Session 9:00 a.m.
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Thursday, May 27, 2021

Senate Session 10:00 a.m.
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