NH Educations News Roundup, September 7, 2021

Image courtesy of NHPR

In this week’s NH Education News Roundup: Participation in new voucher program likely to far exceed estimates; Census data show student population in the state has changed; new resources provide guidance on federal relief funds; and New Hampshire Education Network to meet next week. 

School voucher program could cost the state millions more than projected — According to Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, between 1,000 and 1,500 families have expressed interest in the new “education freedom account” program, which would cost the state millions more than the DOE projected. 

When lawmakers were considering the proposal, supporters of the program assured them that there would be minimal cost to the state, pointing to the DOE’s initial projection that 28 students would enroll in the program in the first year for a total cost of $129,000. However, if 1,500 students enrolled, the cost would likely be closer to $7 million in the first year. The vouchers are paid for by the same state fund that pays for public and charter schools, school building aid, and other public education-related programs, meaning that there would be fewer dollars available for these programs.

We likely won’t know how many families enroll in the school voucher program until October or November, but there is currently no cap on the number of families who can enroll as long as they meet the income eligibility requirements.

The EFA program, which was rolled into the state budget last spring following strong opposition during public hearings, provides taxpayer-funded vouchers for families to use on private and religious school tuition and homeschooling expenses. The State Board of Education adopted interim rules for the voucher program last month, in spite of significant concerns raised by staff attorneys over safety, privacy, and oversight.

Last week, former Trump administration officials Mike Pompeo and Betsy DeVos visited New Hampshire to promote the voucher program, which is one of the most expansive in the country. Some lawmakers are seeking to loosen income restrictions on the program, while others plan to propose limits on the number of vouchers that can be awarded, the New Hampshire Bulletin reported last week

State’s school-age population has shrunk but grown more diverse — The under-18 population in New Hampshire decreased by more than 10% between 2010 and 2020, according to an analysis of census data from the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy; meanwhile, the percentage of non-white young people increased by almost 48%. Declining enrollment trends are one component of the ongoing debate around school funding, and some school districts are reflecting on how best to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student body.

New resources provide insight, guidance for targeting federal relief funds — As a third round of federal relief funding makes its way to New Hampshire schools, several new resources offer data and strategies for how to direct funds where they’ll have the greatest impact:

Students reach new heights at one high school’s orientation program — All this school year, Reaching Higher is shining a light on the great things happening in public schools around the state. We recently visited Souhegan High School to learn about its unique “Saber Startup” orientation program for incoming freshmen, of the many ways educators are addressing the social-emotional impact of the pandemic as students return to school.

Lawmakers set to revive School Funding Commission’s recommendations — In an Op-Ed published last week, Rep. David Luneau (D-Hopkinton), indicated that members of the Commission to Study School Funding will again attempt to build support for legislation that reflects the Commission’s recommendations in the coming legislative session. Created during the 2019 legislative session, the Commission, with the help of an independent research group, spent a year analyzing the state’s school funding formula and creating recommendations for reform. Some of the recommendations made their way into legislative proposals last year but gained little traction among the newly Republican-controlled House and Senate.

“Unfortunately, some lawmakers dismiss the commission’s work and instead promote flawed policies that have nothing to do with improving student outcomes,” Luneau wrote. “The plan coming forward during the upcoming legislative session will apply our precious state resources where they are needed the most.” 

Mask debate continues as school begins and COVID cases rise — With school starting in many districts last week, decisions around masking remained a highly charged topic locally and nationally. Twenty-two families in SAU 16, which serves Exeter and several surrounding towns, are taking the district to court over its mask mandate, the latest in a series of skirmishes over mask mandates in schools around the state. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into five states over their laws prohibiting mask mandates in schools, on the grounds that they violate civil rights laws protecting students with disabilities. While comprehensive data is not yet available, two new studies project higher rates of infection with the Delta variant in schools without mask mandates or COVID testing. 

New Hampshire Education Network meetings resume next week — The New Hampshire Education Network will meet on Monday, September 13, at 3 p.m., and it’s not too late to sign up. Our goal for this first meeting of the year is a review of new policies from 2021 and a look ahead to 2022. Register here.

State Department of Education seeks to launch high school apprenticeship program — A proposal drafted by the Department of Education would create apprenticeship programs in four pilot school districts, allowing students to earn a postsecondary credential following graduation through internships and apprenticeships with partner organizations, the New Hampshire Bulletin reported last week. The $1.7 million program would be funded by the Out-of-School Time Career Pathway Grant program and run by the New Hampshire Learning Initiative.

New resource evaluates non-degree credentials —  A new policy outline by the Education Commission of the States defines key components of effective non-degree credentials for lawmakers and education leaders seeking to create non-degree credential pathways to the workforce. The researchers emphasize alignment with additional education and degree programs, input from workforce stakeholders, and documented evidence of job opportunities. 

Education Up Close

This District Built a Better, More Reliable Supply of Substitute Teachers. Here’s How
Education Week, Elizabeth Heubeck, September 2, 2021

Educators see struggling students. After a pandemic year, do they need extra help or services for a disability? 
Chalkbeat, Kalyn Belsha, September 1, 2021

The State Must Provide: Why America’s Colleges Have Always Been Unequal —  and How To Set Them Right 
HarperCollins, Adam Harris, August 10, 2021