NH Education News Roundup, August 2, 2021

New Hampshire schools are experiencing a bus driver shortage that could affect routes and create more crowded conditions. Creative Commons photo

In this week’s NH Education News Roundup: Essay on NH school funding frustrations featured in ‘Chalkbeat;’ Executive Council to review DOE contracts; school bus driver shortage worsening; interim rules for school vouchers heads to rule-making committee; and CTE Commission to meet this week. 

Derry School Board member describes NH funding challenges in ‘Chalkbeat’— In an essay published last week by the national education news organization Chalkbeat, Derry School Board member Erika Cohen discusses the increasingly difficult responsibility of explaining the district budget to taxpayers. Communities understand that local taxes play a role in ensuring kids get a quality education, Cohen writes. “What’s tougher to explain is why the school budget keeps going up without new programs or more students. The reason is the revenue we get from the state keeps shrinking, even though our needs haven’t changed.”

Read RHNH’s coverage of the $25 million cut to public school funding that lawmakers passed in June.

Executive Council to review three proposed DOE contracts this week — The Governor and Executive Council are scheduled to authorize four Department of Education contracts at their next meeting on Wednesday, August 4, at the Colonial Theatre in Keene. These include a sole-source contract with the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Concord, NH, to implement the new school voucher program and a sole-source contract with Chess Schools LLC of Hendersonville, NC, to provide training for teachers to integrate chess in their classroom instruction, using $309,558 in federal COVID relief funds.

State Board of Education meeting rescheduled — The State Board of Education’s August meeting has been rescheduled to Friday, August 27, at 9 a.m. in Room 100 of the Walker Building, at 21 Fruit Street.

Schools facing critical shortage of school bus drivers — School bus companies are having a harder time than usual filling bus driver positions going into the 2021-22 school year, and the shortage could mean students spend more time in more crowded buses. Bus driver shortages are common, but this year some districts have 50% fewer drivers than usual, NHPR reported last week. Summer school students are spending more time on the bus than usual, and that trend is predictive of what the school year will look like. Some schools may be forced to stop offering free transportation to high school students and sports teams. 

Interim rules for school vouchers headed to legislative oversight committee  — The State Board of Education unanimously approved a set of interim rules for the new school voucher program during its July 19 meeting, creating protocols for how the voucher funds are distributed and what the scholarship organization administering the funds is required to report to the Department of Education. The rules, which will last only six months, are expected to go before the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules in August. Meanwhile, the Department of Education will be required to adopt regular rules that will be subject to the normal rulemaking procedure, including the requirement of a public hearing. The Department pushed out the interim rules in order to begin offering vouchers this fall. 

The school voucher program, which allows families to use taxpayer dollars to pay for private school and homeschool expenses and is one of the most expansive in the country, was passed as part of the state budget in June, despite overwhelming public opposition

‘Divisive Concepts’ guidelines issued — The NH Department of Education has posted guidelines for public schools around the ‘divisive concepts’ legislation passed in June as part of the state budget. The law prohibits teachers from teaching, among other things, that any group is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” The new guidelines state that educators may still teach about slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, and the treatment of various groups, including women, Native American people, and LGBTQ people, even though such lessons “may make students, faculty, or parents uncomfortable.” Under existing laws, school boards must have policies that allow parents to exempt their children from lessons they find objectionable.

The bill met with strong resistance from educators during public hearings and caused 10 members of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion to resign prior to it being signed into law by Gov. Sununu in June. Various versions of ‘divisive concepts’ legislation, have been introduced in numerous states and passed in several.

Attention school leaders and educators: All through the coming school year, Reaching Higher wants to highlight solutions and success stories from schools around the state. If you have an idea you’d like to share — an exciting new program, a lesson learned over the past year, a student-led initiative, a community project, or even an everyday routine that’s making a difference — please contact Sarah Earle at s.earle@reachinghighernh.org

NHHEAF ‘Summer Boot Camps’ continue through August — The New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation is offering several events for rising high school seniors and their parents this month. The foundation’s final college essay workshop of the summer will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 4, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. College Timeline seminars are scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 5, and Tuesday, Aug. 10, from 6 to 7 p.m. And Financial Aid 101 will take place on Thursday, Aug. 12, from 6 to 7 p.m. Register here

CTE Commission to meet this week — The Committee to Study the Funding of Tuition and Transportation for Career Technical Education will meet on Thursday, Aug. 5, from 10 a.m to noon in Room 206-208 of the Legislative Office Building. Created during the 2021 Legislative session, the Commission has been charged with evaluating the current funding formula for tuition and transportation to Career and Technical Education centers and identifying policies and funding strategies to increase student access to Career and Technical Education. Its findings and recommendations are due in November 2022. 

Education Up Close

Pandemic and Racial Injustice Cause Outsize Harm to Black Students, Study Finds
New York Times, Isabella Grullon Paz, July 27, 2021

When Teachers and Guidance Counselors Become Informal Mentors, Students Thrive
Education Week, Madeline Will, July 29, 2021

As Fall Semester Approaches, Institutions Struggle to Address Student Mental Health Concerns
Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Liann Herder, July 22, 2021

Amid Historic Windfall, School Leaders Find that Soaring Inflation is Curbing Their Ability to Purchase, Hire and Build
The 74, Linda Jacobson, July 28, 2021