The new legislative session is starting off in full force. Both the House and Senate’s Education Committees have public hearings scheduled through the month of January, with topics ranging from school funding, to reigning in the statewide school voucher program, to a new “teacher loyalty” bill that will take last year’s Divisive Concepts legislation, and bans on teaching about American history, even further.
Public hearings for key bills start as early as Tuesday, January 11. A full calendar of public hearing dates are included at the end of the article.
Here are seven key trends to watch out for this session:
- Addressing the school funding crisis: There are two big proposals to address the school funding crisis: HB 1680, which overhauls the system by substantially boosting state aid and implementing tighter school accountability standards for student outcomes; and, SB 420, which creates an “extraordinary need” grant for towns with low property bases.
- Increasing accountability and transparency in the statewide school voucher program: Now that HB 607, the local school voucher bill, has been tabled, there aren’t any immediate proposals to expand the existing statewide school voucher program. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are tinkering with the program. House and Senate Democrats are proposing basic guardrails to oversee the program and protect students, families, and taxpayers, while Republican efforts focus on expanding the NH Department of Education’s capacity to support the scholarship organization, families, and schools in the voucher program’s operations. There are also two proposals to repeal the program: HB 1683, and SB 432.
- Dueling efforts around “divisive concepts” and content bans: Several proposals would change how violations of the ban are treated, while two repeal the ban altogether. On the other side of the aisle, there are efforts to expand the ban: one that would expand its scope to public colleges and universities, and a “teacher loyalty” bill that would ban teachers from teaching topics that “promote a negative account or representation” of the country’s founding and history.
- Addressing teacher workforce shortages: SB 236 would create a commission to study teacher workforce shortages and incentive programs. New Hampshire has had a teacher workforce shortage for years, which has been exacerbated by both the pandemic and an aging workforce. The commission would study the state of the workforce through 2026 and evaluate recruitment and retention programs in other states that could attract new teachers and keep existing ones.
- Calendar alignment for CTE and school districts: HB 1661 would require school districts and Career and Technical Education Centers (CTE Centers) to enter into regional career and technical education agreements (RCTEAs), which would align school calendars of sending schools and CTE programs to minimize missed school time due to class start/stop times and scheduled and unscheduled school closures.
- Focus on early childhood education: SB 453 would fund pre-kindergarten programs in the state through the state’s education funding formula, effectively expanding access for thousands of young children in the state. SB 326 would create an Office of Early Childhood in the NH Department of Education to expand and integrate efforts.
- No proposals to extend universal school meals: HB 1564 would require that schools participate in the National School Breakfast Program and offer breakfast if they do not already do so. There are several other nutrition-related bills, but noticeably absent from the LSR list is a lack of state efforts to extend the USDA’s universal school meal program.
Addressing the school funding crisis
There are two key bills that take very different approaches to addressing the school funding crisis:
SB 420 would target about $25 million in state funding for municipalities with low property bases through “extraordinary need” grants, as a supplement to the existing school funding formula. Under the plan, towns with low property bases would receive an additional $650 per student who qualifies for school meal programs (185% of the federal poverty guideline). Towns with moderate property bases would receive aid based on a sliding scale, averaging about $531 per student.
SB 420 would partially restore the $25 million cut to public education funding in the 2021-2022 statewide budget. In that budget, Republican lawmakers replaced two targeted funding streams with a $25 million relief fund over the biennium and a $100 million property tax cut in 2023, which will disproportionately benefit towns with high property tax bases.
HB 1680 would overhaul the school funding formula to phase in a new, weighted formula that targets state funds to school districts most in need. The “Foundation Opportunity Grants” would create a funding floor, and would provide more state funding for districts that have high concentrations of students in poverty, in special education, in English Language Learner programs, and in smaller districts.
The “base” opportunity grant would be $6,501 per student, per year in 2023, up from the current base adequacy grant of $3,708 per student, per year. Schools would receive $9,687 for each student who is eligible for school meal programs, $14,302 for each student in an English Language Learner program, and $27,889 for each student in special education programs.
In addition to the boost in state funding, the bill implements significant oversight and accountability for school districts in meeting student outcome targets. Schools would be held accountable for not meeting outcome benchmarks and would work with their local school boards, communities, and the NH Department of Education to craft “improvement plans” to meet outcome goals.
Increasing accountability and transparency in the statewide school voucher program
There are over 20 bills that modify or repeal the statewide school voucher program. It remains the most expansive school voucher program in the country, with minimal accountability or transparency for public dollars. A state oversight committee found multiple problemswith the program, including “minimal” oversight by the state and an “impermissible delegation of authority.” Nearly all of the voucher-related bills this session attempt to remedy these issues.
Here are the key bills to watch:
HB 1669, which would require the NH Department of Education to administer the school voucher program. Currently, the Children’s Scholarship Fund administers the program, sets most of the rules for how the program operates, and handles the state dollars for the program.
HB 1355, which requires the scholarship organization to refer suspected cases of voucher misuse or fraud to state authorities. Current law does not require that the scholarship organization report fraud and misuse of public funds, which have been major issues in other states — Arizona’s school voucher program, for example, has reported over $700,000 in misspent funds.
HB 1120, which strengthens the safety requirements of education service providers: it requires education service providers to comply with state and local health and safety standards and codes, makes sure that all employees with direct contact with students have had a criminal background check, and, if the provider is a private school, must have New Hampshire State Board of Education approval as a private school.
The bill also requires that the provider be in operation for one year before participating, to demonstrate “financial sustainability and a history of measurable academic success,” which is a requirement in other states’ school voucher programs, including Georgia, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
HB 1114, which requires the scholarship organization to create public profiles on each education service provider to inform families, students, and taxpayers of their operations. Profiles would include administrator contact information, school performance data, school discipline policies, curriculum, accreditation status, information for students with disabilities, tuition and financial aid options, and other data.
HB 1684, which would limit the amount of state funding available for the school voucher program to its original state estimates: $129,000 in its first year, and $3.3 million in its second. The actual cost has far exceeded the state estimates, and is expected to cost $8.1 million in its first year alone.
HB 1115, which would require students who receive school vouchers to take the same annual statewide assessment as all public and charter school students. Current law allows recipients to take any nationally-standardized test or provide a portfolio of materials used or developed by the student as accountability measures.
HB 1678, which would allow students who transition out of the school voucher program to enroll in homeschooling or private school options under those laws.
HB 1152, which would require families to verify eligibility for differentiated aid annually. In its current form, students only have to prove their eligibility for targeted aid once, even if they no longer qualify in subsequent years. That could add up to $4,670 per student, per year in differentiated aid.
Dueling efforts around “divisive concepts” and content bans
There are dueling efforts regarding the recently passed “divisive concepts” statute, which effectively bans teaching and training on systemic racism, sexism, ableism, and other “divisive concepts.”
Three bills, SB 298, SB 304, and HB 1576, would repeal the “divisive concepts” statute that was passed in last year’s state budget. HB 1090 and HB 1638 modify the statute: the former clarifies that the “divisive concepts” statute would not affect the accurate and complete teaching of United States history, while HB 1638 redirects complaints to local school officials rather than the state’s Office of Human Rights.
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans are moving forward with expanding the divisive concepts statute: HB 1313 would extend the content ban to higher education institutions, and HB 1255, known as the “teacher loyalty” bill, would ban teaching “a negative account” about United States history or its founding, including a prohibition on “teaching that the United States was founded on racism.”
Addressing teacher workforce shortages
Even before the pandemic, New Hampshire had a “critical shortage list” that ranged from school administrators, to school counselors and social workers, to English, science, social studies, and math teachers. SB 236 would create a commission to study teacher workforce shortages and incentive programs, and would recommend innovative ways to recruit and retain teachers.
Calendar alignment for CTE and school districts
After months of studying student access, logistical issues, and regional considerations for the state’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, HB 1661 proposes a framework for streamlining school calendars and limiting disruptions for students and schools.
Sending school districts and CTE Centers would be required to enter into regional career and technical education agreements (RCTEAs), which would align their school calendars.
Days off, school start and end times, class periods, and unexpected cancellation days are currently local decisions. Individual school boards have full control and discretion over their school calendars, other than state requirements for days in school.
In the past, statewide efforts to change calendars have stalled: one attempt to change the first day of school to after Labor Day received a lot of pushback and was ultimately dropped.
There are a number of logistical and local concerns with moving to a regionalized calendar system, including transportation and other special considerations. It’s a complex issue that will certainly feign a lot of interest.
Focus on early childhood education
Universal pre-kindergarten is not required in New Hampshire, nor is it funded by the state. Some school districts offer pre-k programs, and public funding is usually restricted to children with low family incomes and/or children who have special education needs.
There are two key efforts to advance early childhood education in the state.
SB 453 would fund pre-kindergarten programs in the state through the state’s education funding formula, effectively expanding access for thousands of young children in the state. The bill would require districts to offer pre-kindergarten, or provide access through another school or alternative plan. SB 326 would create an Office of Early Childhood in the NH Department of Education to expand and integrate efforts
No proposals to extend universal school meals
HB 1434 would require that New Hampshire public schools offer both breakfast and lunch, and would require schools to participate in the National School Breakfast Program unless they have their own school breakfast program. Students who have access to breakfasts at school have higher test scores, lower behavior, emotional, and educational problems, decreased illness rates, lower absentee rates, and higher rates of graduation, according to the No Kid Hungry’s Center for Best Practices.
However, despite other states’ efforts to extend the universal school meal program, New Hampshire lawmakers have not proposed any bills yet that take up the issue.
As part of the federal COVID response, the USDA waived requirements for school meal programs and has allowed schools to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all children in public schools, regardless of eligibility. California and Maine have already passed state legislation that would extend the program regardless of whether the federal government extends it.
PUBLIC HEARING SCHEDULE
Tuesday, January 11, 2022
House Education Committee, Room 205-207
9:00 a.m. Committee Organization
9:30 a.m. HB 1218-FN, relative to the merger of Granite State College with the University of New Hampshire.
10:30 a.m. HB 1530, relative to bachelor’s degrees offered by the Community College System of New Hampshire.
11:30 a.m. HB 1575-FN, relative to waiver of tuition in the university system.
1:00 p.m. HB 1574-FN, prohibiting the University System and Community College Systems of New Hampshire from charging out-of-state tuition to students voting in New Hampshire.
1:30 p.m. HB 1648-FN, requiring public colleges and universities to implement peer support groups and develop policies for students with mental health conditions.
2:00 p.m. HB 1313, relative to rights to freedom from discrimination in higher education.
2:45 p.m. HB 1685-FN, establishing a school facility planning and development program in the Department of Education.
Senate Education Committee, Room 101
9:00 a.m. SB 232, relative to the permissible uses of a school district contingency fund.
9:15 a.m. SB 231, relative to an option for students attending an out-of-state school to attend in New Hampshire.
9:30 a.m. SB 233-FN, relative to water bottle filling stations in schools.
9:45 a.m. SB 234, requiring student identification cards to include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
House Education Committee, Room 205-207
9:00 a.m. HB 1521-FN, requiring the Department of Education to provide the House and Senate standing committees responsible for education with written copies of the laws relative to education.
9:45 a.m. HB 1624-FN-A, relative to students with disabilities participating in co-curricular activities and making an appropriation therefor.
10:30 a.m. HB 1657-FN-A, establishing a New Hampshire farm-to-school reimbursement program.
11:00 a.m. HB 1655-FN, relative to natural immunity system health and wellness curriculum in schools.
1:00 p.m. HB 1561-FN, relative to school nutrition standards.
2:15 p.m. HB 1684-FN-A-L, limiting education freedom account funding to budgeted amounts.
3:00 p.m. HB 1680-FN, establishing a foundation opportunity budget program for funding public education.
Senate Judiciary Committee, State House Room 100
1:45 p.m. SB 304, repealing the divisive concepts bill
Thursday, January 13, 2022
House Education Committee, Room 205-207
9:00 a.m. HB 1399, relative to school district withdrawal from a cooperative school district.
10:00 a.m. HB 1366, relative to cooperative school board reapportionment.
10:45 a.m. HB 1646, relative to representation on a cooperative school district board.
11:30 a.m. HB 1276, allowing for school district budgets and warrant articles to include cost per student information.
1:00 p.m. HB 1298-FN, relative to eligibility for the education tax credit.
1:45 p.m. HB 1676-FN-A-L, relative to making incentive grants for school districts that improve in certain assessment scores.
2:15 p.m. HB 1137, relative to the duty of school boards to provide education.
3:00 p.m. HB 1169, relative to public comment and inquiry during school board meetings.
Senate Education Committee, Room 101
1:00 p.m. SB 352, relative to substitute teacher criminal history records check.
1:15 p.m. SB 353, relative to the education professional standards board.
1:30 p.m. SB 386, relative to the determination of state adequate education grants and chartered public school tuition amounts.
1:45 p.m. SB 420-FN-A-L, establishing an extraordinary need grant for schools.
This post was updated to clarify the pre-kindergarten requirements under SB 453.