NH Education News Roundup, June 1, 2021

Join RHNH on Monday, June 7 at 3 p.m. for a webinar examining the proposed state budget. We’ll be walking through the big education-related issues, including the voucher proposal and school funding, and will have open space for questions and discussion. Register here. 

In this week’s NH Education News Roundup: School vouchers and ‘Divisive Concepts’ bill added to budget; NH Gives is one week away; and U.S. DOE issues guidance on federal relief funds.

School voucher bill added to the state budget proposal  — On Wednesday, May 26, the Senate Finance Committee voted 5-2 to include SB 130, the school voucher bill, in the larger state budget package. The proposal, which is heavily opposed by Granite Staters, would use public taxpayer dollars to fund private and homeschooling expenses through “Education Freedom Accounts,” or vouchers.

The Senate also added in a provision that would restore approximately $62 million in state funding for New Hampshire’s public schools. The Senate chose not to restore the disparity aid that provides towns with low property tax bases with additional funding and property tax relief. As a result, these towns will likely have to make up approximately $27 million through tax increases, budget cuts, or a blend of the two. 

The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill on Thursday, June 3. Contact information for Senators can be found here.

Support our work next week with 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. Visit our NH Gives page to make a donation to RHNH!

Senate Finance Committee adds ‘Divisive Concepts’ bill to state budget proposal — The Senate Finance Committee added an amended version of HB 544, the ‘Divisive Concepts’ bill, to the state budget last week. The bill would prohibit organizations that receive money from or contract with the state from discussing topics such as systemic racism and sexism. The amendment broadens the bill’s scope to include age, gender identity, disability, and other categories as well as race and sex, and allows these topics to be taught as historical concepts. 

The bill has met with strong pushback since its introduction in the House. A growing number of businesses and organizations, including Reaching Higher, have signed onto a letter to the Governor and Legislature expressing opposition to the bill, and several school districts have officially opposed it. Gov. Chris Sununu has said he would veto the bill.

State revenue projections raised — The Senate Ways and Means Committee has released its updated preliminary estimates for tax revenues. The committee is expecting over a half a billion dollars more in state revenue than the House projection on March 18, meaning that there is substantially more revenue than expected. The Senate is planning various tax cuts, including business and interest tax cuts, but school funding is, at this point, limited to the $65 million in restored aid. A roughly $26 million shortfall in state funding remains for public schools. 

U.S. DOE offers guidance on relief funds for schools — The U.S. Department of Education (U.S. DOE) released a fact sheet last week that aims to provide guidance on federal relief funds for schools. Among the key issues addressed in the document is the authority of state agencies in distributing funds. According to the U.S. DOE, “a state education agency or state legislature may not limit a school district’s use of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief formula funds or limit districts’ access or spending of the funds.” The fact sheet also explains funding for specific subgroups of students, methods for making subgrants, and timelines for distributing and using the funds. 

State’s only district-authorized charter school closing due to financial strains — PACE Career Academy, a public charter high school in Pembroke, announced last week that it will close its doors at the end of the school year. Founded in 2011, the school was the state’s only district-authorized charter school, serving students who didn’t thrive in traditional classrooms. The school board concluded this year that it would be unable to meet its financial obligations going forward, Board Chair Clint Hanson told the Concord Monitorlast week. 

“We simply ran afoul of the way we fund schools,” Hanson said. “And that is going to perpetuate here in New Hampshire. The property tax is simply not designed to fund the types of programs that are out there.”

As a district-authorized charter school, PACE was funded through tuition payments from students’ home districts. State law requires school districts to pay 80% of their per-student cost as tuition directly to the school, which was about $11,600 per student in Pembroke in 2019. 

Senate Finance Committee restores funding for Governor’s Scholarship — The Senate Finance Committee restored $6 million in funding for the Governor’s Scholarship program in the state budget on Friday, May 28. The scholarship provides up to $2,000 per year to Pell Grant-eligible students who have earned the New Hampshire Scholars designation and who meet residency, academic, and other requirements. The House had restored the Governor’s STEM Scholarship, but the Governor’s Scholarship had remained unfunded. 

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to present the budget proposal to the full chamber on Tuesday, June 1 at 2 p.m., and the full chamber is scheduled to vote on the bill on Thursday, June 3.

This Week’s Legislative Schedule

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Senate Finance Budget Work Session 2:00 p.m.
Click Here to Join the Zoom

Finance Committee Budget Briefing on HB 1 and HB 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

House Session 9:00 a.m.
Click Here to Join the Livestream

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

  • HB278, relative to the use of unused district facilities by chartered public schools.
  • HB 2, the statewide budget bill

Friday, June 4, 2021

House Session  9:00 a.m.
Click Here to Join the Livestream

Education Up Close

States Address Special Education During COVID-19 
Ed Note, Carlos Jamieson, June 1, 2021

How Federal Stimulus Spending Plays Out For State Higher Ed
Inside Higher Ed, Emma Whitford, May 28, 2021

After a tumultuous year, teacher ‘thank you’ bonuses gain steam and spark debate
Chalkbeat, Matt Barnum, May 27, 2021

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