NH Education News Roundup, June 14, 2021

In this week’s NH Education News Roundup: New Reaching Higher analysis finds wealthy towns would reap benefit of statewide property tax cut; committees of conference begin meeting; State Board of Ed discusses charter school closings; and state DOE submits plan for federal relief funds.

Replacing targeted aid with tax cut disproportionately benefits owners of higher valued properties —  The NH state budget for 2022-2023 replaces a $47.5 million targeted tax relief fund, which provided additional funding for residents in towns with lower property tax bases (“property-poor” towns), with a $100 million cut in the statewide property tax. 

According to RHNH’s analysis, the average homeowner in Derry would pay $166 more in property taxes, while the average homeowner in Moultonborough would pay $267 less, due largely to the replacement of targeted aid in the budget. Claremont, Rochester, Derry, and Berlin are expected to lose more than $1 million each in 2023 after accounting for the property tax reduction. Read the analysis here. 

Committees of conference begin meeting— The legislative season is wrapping up, and lawmakers in the House and Senate are forming “committees of conference” to hash out their differences. When a chamber disagrees with amendments that the other chamber made, they can request a committee of conference to work out a compromise to bring back to both chambers. 

The committees are small groups of Representatives and Senators, appointed by the leaders of each chamber. While they can only debate the content of the bill, the small group can have significant influence over the final version. 

Reaching Higher NH is monitoring four bills that are headed to committees of conference. The first, the state budget bill, went to committee on Friday, June 11. Members included Representatives Ken Weyler (R-Kingston), Lynne Ober (R-Hudson), Karen Umberger (R-Kearsarge), Jess Edwards (R-Auburn), and Tracy Emerick (R-Hampton); Senators Gary Daniels (R-Milford), Erin Hennessey (R-Littleton), and Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua).

The following bills go before committees this week: 

HB 2: The budget “trailer”bill (which includes the statewide voucher program)Members: Representatives Lynne Ober (R-Hudson), Ken Weyler (R-Kingston), Karen Umberger (R-Kearsarge), Len Turcotte (R-Barrington), and Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry); Senators Chuck Morse (R-Salem), Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), and Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua).First meeting: Monday, June 14, 11 a.m. 

HB 242: Relative to the content of a substantive education

Members: Representatives Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill), Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro), Deborah Hobson (R-East Kingston), and Barbara Shaw (D-Manchester); Senators Ruth Ward (R-Stoddard), Erin Hennessey (R-Littleton), and Suzanne Prentiss (D-Lebanon).

First meeting: Wednesday, June 16, 9 a.m.

SB 148: Making changes to the Career and Technical Education (CTE) laws, including encouraging students to consider CTE pathwaysMembers: Representatives Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill), Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro), Ralph Boehm (R-Litchfield), and Barbara Shaw (D-Manchester); Senators Ruth Ward (R-Stoddard), Erin Hennessey (R-Littleton), and Jay Kahn (D-Keene).First meeting: Not yet scheduled

The meetings are open to the public, and members welcome public input via phone or email. Find contact information for House members here (under “Select From the House Roster), and contact information for Senate members here.

State Board hears reports on two charter school closures; debates Holocaust and Genocide standards: The NH State Board of Education met on Thursday, June 10, to discuss the closure of two of the state’s charter schools, including PACE Career Academy, New Hampshire’s only district-run charter school. PACE, which was one of the state’s first charter schools, cited personnel, staffing, enrollment, and financial challenges as the reasons for closure. Making Community Connections is closing its Manchester campus and consolidating all operations to its Keene campus due largely to low enrollment, according to school officials. 

The State Board also debated the implementation of the state’s recent mandate for teaching about the Holocaust and genocide, comparing curriculum and standards in other states. The State Board met with members of the NH Commission on Holocaust and Genocide Education, which was tasked under Governor Chris Sununu to propose Holocaust and Genocide education minimum standards. The Commission’s proposed standards would require comprehensive instruction “not later than 6th grade,” as a “developmentally appropriate” component of a course in Social Studies and/or English Language Arts. The State Board questioned whether instruction starting at 6th grade would be too early, and decided to wait until their next meeting to take up the proposal again.

Webinar on education in the state budget now available — If you missed Reaching Higher’s webinar on education in the state budget last week or want to share it with someone, a recording is now available on our website. Presented on Monday, June 3, 2021, the webinar examines the Senate’s finalized version of the state budget, which includes a sweeping and highly controversial voucher program, changes the school funding formula for public schools, and trades a targeted property tax relief program for a universal cut that will disproportionately benefit property-wealthy towns. Reaching Higher Policy Director Christina Pretorius outlines the key components of the budget pertaining to education and discusses next steps in the legislative process.

Young people share their thoughts on NH in Reaching Higher series — As they map out their career pathways, one critical question facing young people is whether they’ll stay in New Hampshire or strike out in new directions. It’s a question with broad-reaching implications for everyone from school leaders to business owners to taxpayers as well. Reaching Higher’s new two-part seriesexamines the factors that determine whether young people ultimately leave New Hampshire or whether they stay here for good. It includes insights from workforce experts and interviews with numerous high school and college students.

Judge rules that out-of-state lawyers can work on ConVal case — A Cheshire County judge ruled last week that two attorneys from St. Louis can assist the N.H. Attorney General’s Office in the ConVal case. Originally filed in 2019 by the ConVal School District and three other districts in the Southwestern part of the state, the case is the latest in a series of lawsuits challenging the way the state funds education. It was sent back to the Cheshire County Superior Court for a full trial earlier this year 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, Hopkinton, Lebanon, Manchester, and Nashua school districts. Michael Tierney, the attorney representing the school districts, had argued against the state’s request to hire out-of-state lawyers, contending that securing funds to pay the lawyers could result in a delay. 

State DOE submits plan for federal relief funds — Local school districts will receive 90% of the $350 million in American Rescue Plan funds earmarked for New Hampshire, while the Department of Education will spend the remaining 10%, according to a plan submitted to the federal government by the Department. About $17 million of the funds will be spent on summer programs, after-school programs, and other learning recovery initiatives, according to the plan.

Two members of School Funding Commission call budget a ‘backward step’ –In an Op-Ed published in In-Depth NH last week, two members of the Commission to Study School Funding characterize the state budget passed last week by the NH Senate as ‘a backward step’ that will further widen opportunity gaps around the state. “The Senate budget would have the effect of increasing state aid to the communities that are already offering above average student opportunities.  And it would do very little to help more needy communities,” Rep. David Luneau (D-Hopkinton) and Bill Ardinger, a Concord attorney, wrote in an Op-Ed published on Tuesday, June 8. Read the full article here

Biden’s budget proposal aims to address school funding inequities — The latest federal budget proposed by the Biden administration includes a $20 billion plan for high-poverty school districts in states that “address long-standing funding disparities” between rich and poor districts, according to a New York Times article published last week. Biden hasn’t yet articulated exactly how the program would work, and it is likely to meet with resistance even in liberal areas of the country; however, experts say it has the potential to rectify inequities in ways previous federal programs have not. 

New Hampshire’s school funding formula, which relies more heavily on local property taxes than any other state, has been widely criticized for creating deep inequities; an independent research group working with the Commission to Study School Funding last summer found that school districts with the highest concentration of student needs had the fewest fiscal resources to educate those students. 

On Tuesday, June 22, the U.S. Department of Education will hold a virtual summit focusing specifically on inequities that have arisen out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event is the first in a planned series on the topic. Last week, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights published a report outlining how remote learning and the larger public health crisis contributed to growing gaps in student access to a quality education.

Higher education enrollment suffered sharp decline this year — Enrollment at higher education institutions decreased by 3.5% between spring of 2020 and spring of 2021, according to new data published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The decrease was seven times worse than the previous year’s decrease, suggesting that COVID-19 had a significant impact on college students. Community colleges were by far the hardest hit, with a 9.5% decrease, and the decline was worse among male students. Graduate school enrollments actually increased by 4.6%.

Education Up Close

PODCAST: Where Communities Go to College
Have You Heard, Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, June 3, 2021

Ed Dept Report Documents Pandemic’s Toll on Underserved Students
K-12 Dive, Kara Arundel, June 9, 2021

A magic school bus brings science class to schools in need
Hechinger Report, Javeria Salman, June 7, 2021

America’s dirty divide: How the U.S. lets hot school days sabotage learning
The Guardian, Alvin Chang, June 10, 2021