NH Education News Roundup, June 21, 2021

In this week’s Education News Roundup: Committee of conference approves vouchers, school funding provisions; schools must submit plans to DOE this week; new Reaching Higher podcast highlights one school’s self-improvement plan; and estimates of voucher take-up rate vary widely. 

Thank you for supporting Reaching Higher NH — We at Reaching Higher are sincerely grateful to all who made donations through the NH Gives campaign June 8-9. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we raised more than $5,000, which will help us in our mission to ensure every NH child has access to a high-quality education.

Negotiators okay voucher program, funding provisions, ‘divisive concepts’ bills in budget — In budget negotiations last week, select groups of lawmakers known as “committees of conference” approved several key pieces of education legislation within HB 2, the “budget trailer bill.” These included the statewide voucher bill, school funding provisions, and the “divisive concepts” bill. The trailer bill now goes for a final vote before each chamber on Thursday, June 24. If passed by both the House and Senate, it goes to Governor Sununu. He has five days to either approve or veto it or let it pass without his signature.  If the trailer bill doesn’t pass both chambers, the Legislature will go into a special session to work out a compromise. There has been some disagreement within factions of House members around certain elements of the bill, and Republicans hold a very slim majority in the chamber.

Deadline approaching for schools to submit plans for next year — Local school districts are required to submit their plans for next school year to the State Department of Education by Wednesday, June 23. All schools were ordered to return to full-time in-person learning in April, and that model is expected to continue into the fall; however, districts are discussing a variety of issues such as lifting certain COVID restrictions. 

‘School Talk’ highlights one school’s self-improvement journey — In the latest episode of ‘School Talk,” Reaching Higher’s monthly podcast, we talk with local educator Carisa Corrow, who is working with the Franklin School District to create a vision for its future. She discusses the hard work of identifying challenges, crafting solutions, creating measurable goals, and making sure all of it sticks.

“Students know, and they can tell you what’s working and not working for them,” Corrow said.  “And it’s really important to get that feedback in the moment.”

Education tax credit program may provide clues to voucher take-up rate — Without a clear parallel to examine, estimating the number of families who would take advantage of the school voucher program that’s been rolled into the state budget has proven difficult. An article in the New Hampshire Bulletin last week pointed out that the Department of Education’s estimates, which assume a take-up rate of just 28 students in the first year, are based on a 22-year-old voucher program in Arizona that was drastically different than NH’s current voucher proposal. New Hampshire’s current education tax credit program may offer the closest example to draw from, Reaching Higher Policy Director Christina Pretorius told the New Hampshire Bulletin. That program, which is funded by donations from businesses and individuals in exchange for a tax credit, has similar eligibility requirements to the current voucher proposal, and would be the administrator of the voucher program under the current version of the voucher proposal.  This year alone, 626 students received an Education Tax Credit Scholarship — much higher than the Department of Education’s estimate of 28 students. 

Reaching Higher’s own estimates assume that about half of the families who currently homeschool their children or send them to private school would take up the vouchers, costing the state $70 million in new state spending in its first three years. There is nothing in the law that prohibits students from receiving both an Education Tax Credit Scholarship, which averages about $2,800 per student per year, and a voucher, which would range from $3,700 to over $8,000 per student per year. 

Survey finds teachers battling job-related stress in greater numbers — A new national survey published by the RAND Corporation finds that job-related stress has increased significantly for teachers since the pandemic began. Nearly one in four teachers said they were likely to leave their jobs at the end of the 2021-22 school year, as compared with the one-in-six average of previous years. Teachers reported significantly higher levels of depression symptoms and stress than the general population, and one in three teachers said they were caring for their own children while teaching. The survey was conducted in January and February 2021 through the RAND’s American Teacher Panel.

College merger proposal removed from budget — The committee of conference for HB 2, the state budget, agreed last Tuesday to remove a proposal to merge the University System of New Hampshire with the Community College System of New Hampshire. Part of Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposed budget, the merger had met with resistance primarily for its Jan. 2022 deadline. Rep. Karen Umberger (R-Conway) plans to propose new merger legislation in the fall.

NHTI president praises ‘Gift to the Class of 2021’ — The “Gift to the Class of 2021” will play a key role in helping students and the state recover from pandemic-related setbacks, Gretchen Mullin-Sawicki, president of NHTI, wrote in an Op-Ed last week. Last month, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Foundation for New Hampshire Community Colleges announced the $1 million gift, which will provide one free community college course to any graduating senior. “CCSNH’s curriculum is driven by the needs of the local industry,” Mullin-Sawicki wrote in a piece published by the Concord Monitor. “It is an ideal situation both for employers, who can hire trained graduates to meet specific needs, and our students, whose skills are in high demand. And for those looking for more traditional academic pathways, a community college is a perfect place to start your education.” 

This Week’s Legislative Schedule

The House and Senate will meet on Thursday, June 24, to vote on committee of conference reports. Key education bills on the calendar are:

  • HB 2, the statewide budget “trailer bill”: Includes sweeping legislation like school vouchers, relief funding for public schools, and the “divisive concepts” provision passed by the Senate. 
  • HB 242, which makes changes to the “substantive content for an adequate education” statutes and codifies the Learn Everywhere program into law. 
  • SB 148, which is an omnibus bill that includes various bills related to CTE, outdoor education, vocational rehabilitation, and more. Of note, the bill replaced a “right to CTE” with a statement encouraging students to access CTE programs, and requires the NH Department of Education to adopt rules defining “career credentials.”

After their session on Thursday, the House and Senate are expected to be in recess unless they require a special session on the state budget. Work sessions on retained bills usually begin in late summer. 

The next State Board of Education meeting will be Thursday, July 8, at 9 a.m. 

Education Up Close

The challenge of balancing family and school during COVID
Concord Monitor, Eileen O’Grady, June 18, 2021

A Fading Coal County Bets on Schools, but There’s One Big Hitch
New York Times, Eduardo Porter, June 21, 2021

Should rich families be allowed to fundraise a better public school education for their kids?
Hechinger Report, Neal Morton, June14, 2021

Move to Trash: Five pandemic-era education practices that deserve to be dumped in the dustbin 
Education Next, Michael Petrilli, Summer 2021