NH Education News Roundup, June 28, 2021

In this week’s NH Education News Roundup: State budget signed last week will have consequences for education funding; charter school funds to become available; survey on the 2021-22 school year closes this week; funding for scholarships preserved; and new findings on rural residents and educational aspirations released.

Newly passed budget will intensify educational inequities — On Friday, June 25, Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law two budget bills that will map out the state’s priorities and spending for the next two years. The bills include a sweeping school voucher bill that will divert funding to private, religious, and home school programs, a $25 million cut to public school funding, and a ban on teaching and training on systemic racism, sexism, ableism, and other “divisive concepts.”

“With this budget, lawmakers and the Governor had the opportunity to fully fund our public schools to ensure that they had the resources they needed to offer every New Hampshire child access to a high quality public education. Instead, they reduced public school funding by $25 million and slipped in a sweeping school voucher program that was overwhelmingly rejected by Granite Staters,” said Christina Pretorius, Reaching Higher NH’s Policy Director. “The policies in this budget will intensify the consequences of our already inequitable school funding system.”

The budget includes the language of SB 130, which allows taxpayer funds to pay for private and homeschooling expenses through “Education Freedom Accounts,” or vouchers, for families who earn less than 300% of the federal poverty guideline (approximately $78,000 for a family of four in 2020). RHNH estimates that the program will cost New Hampshire $70 million in new state spending in its first three years and will cost local school districts $15 million in lost state revenue over the same time period.

The budget allows the NH Department of Education to use pre-pandemic student counts to calculate state aid for next school year and extends one of the two targeted aid programs (renamed a “Relief Fund”), but allows the targeted aid program for property-poor communities to lapse, resulting in a $25 million cut in public school funding. It also replaces a targeted property tax relief fund with a $100 million cut to the statewide education property tax (SWEPT), which disproportionately benefits owners of higher valued properties and would result in a cut in funding for residents in towns with lower property tax bases (“property-poor” towns).

Charter school grants now available — The NH Department of Education is now accepting applications for the first installment of a $46 million federal grant designed to increase the number of charter schools in the state. The NH DOE plans to use the funds, awarded in 2019, to open 20 new charter schools and expand or replicate six existing schools. Proponents of the grant say there’s a clear need for the funds, citing long wait lists at many current charter schools; however, several charter schools have closed in recent months due to lack of enrollment and related funding shortfalls: PACE Career Academy and Making Community Connections in Manchester recently announced their closures, and Microsociety Academy in Nashua closed its middle school at the end of this school year. 

Survey on 2020-21 school year closes this week — The NH Department of Education is gathering input on how schools responded to the COVID-19 pandemic for a few more days. Families with students enrolled in New Hampshire schools can take the New Hampshire Family Survey,  and other community members can take the Community Survey. The survey closes on Wednesday, June 30. 

Budget maintains scholarship programs, delays college merger — The budget signed into law by Gov. Sununu on Friday, June 25, includes funding for the Governor’s STEM Scholarship Program, which allows high school students to earn college credit for up to two STEM courses per year for free through the Dual and Concurrent Enrollment Program, and allocates $6 million for the Governor’s Scholarship Program, which provides up to $2,000 per eligible student for postsecondary educational or training programs. Funding for the programs had been in question in earlier versions of the budget.

The budget also maintains separate funding and governance structures for CCSNH and the University System of New Hampshire. However, budget negotiators expect a legislative proposal in the fall that would merge the two systems. Learn more: WEBINAR: Higher Education Roundtable by NH Alliance for College and Career Readiness

New report finds few rural residents plan to pursue further education — Rural residents questioned in a recent Strada Education/Network Gallup survey had mostly positive perceptions of education and training, but most said they did not plan to pursue further education in the next five years, according to a new report by the Education Commission of the States. Rural respondents generally agreed that their past education and training had been beneficial but were more skeptical when asked whether higher education in general was worth the cost. Roughly a quarter of respondents cited the pandemic as a factor in why they didn’t plan to pursue further education. Other reasons included cost and time.

Education Up Close

Report Proposes Higher Education Recovery Policies
Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Sarah Wood, June 23, 2021

$100 million and many open questions: Here’s how Biden is approaching school integration
Chalkbeat, Kalyn Belsha and Matt Barnum, June 22, 2021

SPECIAL REPORT: Tackling Learning Gaps This Fall: Advice for Teachers
Education Week, June 22, 2021