NH Education News Digest, March 2022

Dear Friends and Colleagues, 

Like the weather in March, the education climate has experienced dramatic ups and downs over the past month. An assortment of bills that could significantly affect school budgets, school culture, and equal access to education continue to make their way through the pipeline as the first phase of the legislative session comes to a close. But an energized public has also helped move the needle for public education in exciting ways.  In top news this month, the House Education Committee halted an effort to remove core academic domains from the state’s laws defining the content and requirements for an adequate education, following vigorous opposition from the public. The new version of the bill preserves the core academic domains, and adds two new ones: personal finance literacy, and logic and rhetoric. 

HB 1671, as introduced by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut on February 15, would have cut the core knowledge domains of art, world language, health, and digital literacy.  

Reaching Higher NH broke the story, and motivated hundreds of people to testify in opposition to the bill — and for many, it was their first time contacting lawmakers. 

“Granite Staters have shown up in support of our public schools time after time. We saw them show up again, with hundreds of people opposing HB 1671 and the effort to undermine our public schools and, ultimately, our students’ futures. Lawmakers listened this time, and we hope that they will continue to hear our communities’ call for greater support of our students and our public schools,” said Christina Pretorius, Reaching Higher NH’s Policy Director. 

The amended bill passed in a 18-1 vote and is expected to go to the full House floor the week of March 14.

The Legislature is nearly finished with its first round of bills for this session. The last day for the House and Senate to act on bills is Thursday, March 17. Crossover day, when bills from each chamber are sent to the other chamber, takes place on March 31. 

Voters turn out in record numbers to support public schools

Voters around the state demonstrated strong support for public schools on Election Day last week. School budgets and teacher contracts passed with little debate in many districts, and voters turned out in record numbers in several districts to support pro-public education candidates and defeat candidates who attacked curriculum, library books, and equity efforts in schools.

In Lebanon, voters approved a major high school renovation that had failed in three previous attempts. 

In contrast with last year, Pittsfield voters easily passed their school budget this year, as well as approved a new school lunch program. Likewise, voters in the John Stark Regional School District approved their operating budget after struggling to pass a budget last year. And voters in the Monadnock Regional School District passed their operating budget, a new collective bargaining agreement, and a series of warrant articles, including a proposal for renovations to the middle school. 

School meetings for towns that hold traditional meetings will continue for the next few weeks. 

New RHNH Webinar

Christina Pretorius, RHNH’s Policy Director, and Phil Sletten, NH Fiscal Policy Institute’s Senior Policy Analyst, gave an overview of state revenues and what they mean for public school funding in a webinar presented last month. 

According to state reports, New Hampshire is flush with cash — meaning that the state has significant resources to help create more equitable and inclusive educational opportunities. 

 View the webinar here and sign up for the NH Education Network here to receive invitations to future meetings and webinars.

Spotlight on an Outstanding Educator

Tristan Bowen. Courtesy photo.

Tristan Bowen, a fourth-grade teacher at Riddle Brook School in Bedford, was honored last month with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She is one of 102 teachers nationwide who will receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation, a certificate signed by President Biden, and a trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in professional development opportunities and discussions on how to improve STEM education. 

“The Presidential Award is an honor that conveys all the hard work I have put into teaching, and I am grateful for the recognition of my efforts as an educator. This award will also allow me to share my ideas and passion, especially in science, with more educators,” Bowen, a teacher for 22 years, said in a statement. 

“What sets Tristan apart is her forward-thinking and student engagement abilities, especially in the area of STEM education,” Riddle Brook Principal Molly McCarthy and Bedford Superintendent Mike Fournier said in a joint statement. “She encourages creativity, critical thinking and problem solving through interest-based learning for her students.” 

NH’s ‘Divisive Concepts’ law could put AP classes in jeopardy

According to the College Board’s new statement of principles, New Hampshire’s “divisive concepts” ban could be jeopardizing school designations that make them eligible to offer the AP program to their students. In turn, thousands of students risk losing their AP courses, which play an important role in the college admissions process as well as offering college credit or the ability to skip introductory-level college courses.

New Hampshire lawmakers passed a “divisive concepts” ban as part of the statewide budget in 2021 that states K-12 public schools can’t teach certain topics pertaining to race and gender; specifically, that one race or gender is inherently superior to another, which is often thought of as “systemic racism and sexism,” or “unconscious bias.” 

Now, that ban may be jeopardizing school designations that make them eligible to offer the AP program to their students. 

“AP stands for clarity and transparency. Teachers and students deserve clear expectations,” the principles state. “The Advanced Placement Program makes public its course frameworks and sample assessments. Confusion about what is permitted in the classroom disrupts teachers and students as they navigate demanding work.”

Lawmakers are expected to kill two bills, HB 1576 and HB 1090, that would repeal the content ban that puts those courses in jeopardy. The House is expected to vote on those bills on Tuesday, March 15.

Two bills that could have further restricted teachers were voted down in committee last week. HB 1015 would have required teachers to provide parents with a copy of all curriculum and materials used in the classroom at least two weeks in advance, and would allow parents to opt-out of any curriculum or materials that they find “objectionable” or that “violate the student’s convictions.”  HB 1255, known as the “teacher loyalty bill,” would ban the teaching of a “negative account” of U.S. history or its founding.

Unity on CTE

On Wednesday, February 9, House lawmakers passed a bill that aims to expand Career and Technical Education (CTE) access by initiating calendar alignment requirements and formalizing requirements for embedded credits. Developed with input from CTE leaders, HB 1661 proposes a framework for Regional Career and Technical Education Center Agreements (RCTEAs) that would require calendar alignment, including start/stop times, unscheduled school closures or events, daily class start/stop times, credit requirements, and instructional times. It also enables students to earn embedded graduation credit within their CTE pathways. The bill passed by a voice vote. 

The Committee to Study Tuition and Transportation for Career and Technical Education (CTE) began meeting and quickly zeroed in on calendar alignment between sending district schools and CTE centers as a top priority. As the discussion evolved and CTE leaders provided input on their experiences, embedded credits became a key priority of the study committee. 

Several CTE leaders, including those from Salem, Hudson, Milford, and Concord, have been constants at the group’s monthly meetings and offered input that has shaped the emerging legislation.

State adopts school voucher rules despite outstanding legal concerns

The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR), the state’s administrative oversight committee, voted 6-3 to approve conditional rules for the statewide school voucher program last month. The State Board of Education immediately held an emergency meeting to adopt the rules, which reflected several revisions but still did not address a number of outstanding concerns. 

The Committee and staff had questions about the proposed rules, including the scholarship organization’s ability to approve spending that may not be included in the list of accepted uses. The rules include references to “other educational expenses approved by the scholarship organization.”

“We’re concerned that a lack of criteria here would allow carte blanche to the scholarship organization to approve or disapprove other items,”  Michael A. Morrell, Administrative Rules Acting Director, said during the committee meeting. “We’re concerned that the scholarship organization is actually a vendor for the state and is spending state money without accurate direction.” 

The school voucher program provides taxpayer funds to parents to pay for private school tuition and homeschool expenses, including religious education. It was passed as part of the state budget last year despite overwhelming opposition from school and municipal leaders and the public. In 2022, New Hampshire’s public schools will lose about $477,000 in state funding because of the program, and school vouchers will cost the state an estimated $8 million in its first year alone. 

A number of bills that would revise or repeal the voucher program have been introduced this session. A bill that would have created a local school voucher program was tabled in January, and lawmakers have not attempted to bring it back.

Budget cap bill could put pinch on schools

A bill passed by the House Municipal and County Government Committee last week would allow towns to enact budget caps tying school district budget increases to the rate of inflation. Under HB 1393, towns could impose a budget cap by way of a warrant article that would require a 60% supermajority of voters. Voters could only override the cap in any given year by a 60% supermajority, even if federal or state mandates place extra requirements on schools. Critics of the bill say it will force districts to fire teachers and cut programs, especially when faced with unexpected expenses they can’t control. The bill goes to the full House for a vote this week. 

Coming Soon

For next month’s newsletter, we’re planning a special edition dedicated to higher education. Highlights will include an article and podcast on healthcare pathways, an update on legislation affecting the higher education landscape, a literature review, and a toolbox for students as they plan for college and careers. 

Website Makeover

Reaching Higher’s website has undergone a major overhaul, and we’re excited to unveil it to our readers. Our new site provides a clear introduction to who we are and what we do and offers easy navigation to our news, tools, and resources. Check it out!

Staff Picks

CRT Map: Efforts to restrict teaching of racism and bias have multiplied across the U.S.
Chalkbeat, Kathryn Stout and Thomas Wilburn, February 1, 2022

Disabling Segregation
TedX AmoskeagMillyard 2022 Salon Series, Dan Habib, March 24, 2022, 12 p.m.

PROOF POINTS: Debunking the myth that teachers stop improving after five years
Hechinger Report, Jill Barshay, March 7, 2022

Too Many Americans Don’t Understand What Happens in Their Schools
NY Times, Maia Bloomfield Cucchiara, March 8, 2022