Lawmakers are quickly approaching the halfway point known as “crossover day,” when all of the active House bills move to the Senate and vice versa. It’s also a good time to reflect on where we are in the 2022 legislative session. We started with over 130 education-related bills, and now we’re down to about 20.
At the beginning of the session, there were a lot of bills to create guardrails for the state’s school voucher program, to repeal the “divisive concepts” law that educators say has had a chilling effect on their lessons and classrooms, and to address the teacher workforce shortage, among other efforts.
So what’s moving forward? What happened this session?
- The House will be moving several bills forward to the Senate, including: HB 1393, which would allow districts to adopt a school district budget cap; HB 1639, which would make the federal youth behavior survey (the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavioral Survey) opt-in, rather than opt-out, potentially putting millions of dollars of federal grants at risk; HB 1132, which would remove school staff voices when converting a neighborhood public school to a charter school; SB 236, which would create a committee to study NH’s teacher workforce and recruitment incentives; and, HB 1661, which would require regional Career and Technical Education (CTE) agreements to include an aligned school calendar, embedded credit opportunities within a CTE Center, and more frequent review and adoption of CTE Regional Agreements by local school boards.
- Both the House and Senate killed nearly all of the bills relating to school vouchers, including those that would create stronger guardrails for the use of taxpayer dollars, and stronger protections for students and families.
- The House won’t move forward with repealing the “divisive concepts law passed last year. The two bills, HB 1090 and HB 1576, were tabled last week, likely killing both bills. The House killed the “teacher loyalty” bill, which would have prohibited teachers from teaching a “negative account” of U.S. history or its founding, but its sponsors have vowed to bring it back next session.
- The Senate is expected to pass the “extraordinary need” grant bill, but is expected to kill the hold harmless bill. The Senate will vote next week on two school funding-related bills: Lawmakers are expected to pass SB 420, which would create an “extraordinary need” grant that would provide about $25 million over two years to districts with low property tax bases, but are expected to kill SB 426, which would restore $30 million in state funding due to student enrollment fluctuations by extending the state’s student enrollment protection program.
School District Budget Caps
House lawmakers narrowly passed HB 1393, which would allow school districts to adopt a school district budget cap. Under the bill, voters in a school district could impose a school district budget cap — a maximum amount per student, multiplied by the number of students — if 60% of voters approve the measure at the ballot box.
Opposition to the bill significantly outweighed support: 113 people signed in opposition, while 44 signed in support.
“New Hampshire voters already enjoy the unrestricted ability to limit spending in their school districts… If voters don’t support higher spending, then they simply won’t vote for it. The budget cap introduces a bias, dictating that increased spending must be limited by an arbitrary amount. Evidence of this bias is seen in the absence of a proposed cap on spending decreases,” Hollis Budget Committee Chair Tom Gehan wrote in his testimony in opposition to the bill.
The NH Association of School Principals noted the direct impact budget caps would have on students and educators. “Budget caps are detrimental to our schools and can result in reductions in staff, increased class sizes, and reductions in services for students. It also can lead to declines in enrollment for programs like Career and Technical Education, declines in elective course offerings, cuts in afterschool programming, and more,” Bridey Bellemare, NHASP’s Executive Director, wrote in a letter of opposition.
Neal Kurk, who wrote on behalf of the Granite State Taxpayers group, supported the bill, saying in his testimony that it “provides an opportunity for towns concerned about the level of property taxes another way to control them.”
The budget cap is effectively playing out in real-time in Croydon, where a last-minute amendment during their town meeting cut their operating budget by more than half, to $800,000, or $10,000 per student. Residents are furious and worried about what’s next for their children. The town operates a small school for K-4 at $22,000 per student and tuitions to neighboring schools at the cost of about $16,000 per student, not including transportation costs. Residents have largely rejected ideas like private school pods and moving children to the state’s online charter school, VLACS.
The school board has until April 1 to submit a final $800,000 budget, or ask for emergency funding from the state.
HB 1393 now heads to the Senate, where the Senate Education Committee is expected to hold a public hearing in the coming weeks.
HB 1639 would leave many “in the dark” about youth behaviors
HB 1639 was passed by the House, which would require parents to “opt-in” to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey that is administered by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It also requires school boards to vote to approve the survey’s administration every year. Currently, parents can opt their children out of the survey if they choose, and all responses are anonymous. The survey findings are used to inform youth drug and alcohol prevention programming, for demonstrating need for federal grants, and more.
The bill drew support from several parent groups that were concerned about the nature of the questions and the security of the data. According to several letters to the committee, some parents were concerned that some of the survey questions could lead to behaviors like suicide, teen drinking, and teen drug use.
But several public health experts, administrators, and students weighed in, noting the value of the data. Switching the survey to opt-in, they said, would significantly lower the participation rate and reduce the effectiveness of a number of programs, including drug and alcohol prevention programs, afterschool programming, and more, and make planning for the programs harder. It would also put millions of dollars of federal grants at risk.
“Being able to take the YRBS, and analyze the data from it, provides teenagers an anonymous outlet to share the things they struggle with and creates a foundation from which we can brainstorm and implement solutions,” Mason Glew, a freshman at Plymouth State High School, wrote in his opposition to HB 1639.
“Shifting YRBS to “opt-in,” as proposed under HB 1639, would significantly decrease participation, reducing the amount data collected and weakening the prevention and treatment programs that rely upon this data. This reduced participation could contribute to greater inaccuracies, making it more difficult to assess the welfare of New Hampshire’s youth, and it could potentially sacrifice future federal grant funding if the State cannot accurately illustrate the level of need,” stated a letter of opposition signed by 25 public health and youth-focused groups.
HB 1639 now heads to the Senate, where the Senate Education Committee is expected to hold a public hearing in the coming weeks.
Parking garage amendment could put CTE access bill at risk
The House Finance Committee is expected to add an amendment to HB 1661 that could put the bill in jeopardy. HB 1661, as originally written, would address scheduling and credit concerns between Career and Technical Education (CTE) centers and their district schools. It’s the result of nearly a year of study, deliberation, and work between lawmakers and CTE directors.
On Monday, March 21, House Finance Chair Karen Umberger (R-Kearsarge) announced an amendment to the bill that would allocate $35 million for a new parking garage for state lawmakers and a $25 rebate for all owners of registered cars, trucks, motorcycles, and trailers, costing about $40 million.
House Education Chair Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill), who has been working on the CTE bill since the beginning, was concerned that the amendment could put the bill at risk.
“We don’t want to see this bill jeopardized,” Ladd said.
The House Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on the amendment and on a recommendation for the bill at its meeting on Wednesday, March 23.
A Crossroads for School Funding
Lawmakers have resisted passing bills last year and this year that would address the school funding crisis, despite an in-depth study on school funding inequities by the Commission to Study School Funding in 2020, a lawsuit brought on by school districts that currently sits in the state Supreme Court, and repeated calls for greater investment in the state’s public schools.
Barring an earnest effort by the majority to pass a long-term solution to school funding, the Senate has proposed two band-aid fixes: SB 420, which would provide about $25 million over two years through an “extraordinary need” grant for towns with low property tax bases, and SB 426, which would extend the state’s hold harmless provision and restore $30 million in state funding next year.
The Senate Education Committee unanimously recommended passing SB 420, sponsored by Senator Erin Hennessey (R-Littleton), but recommended killing SB 426, sponsored by Senator Jay Kahn (D-Keene), along party lines.
The House Education Committee also retained a bill that would overhaul the school funding formula. According to members on the Committee, a subcommittee will study the bill over the summer.
Public schools took a $25 million hit in state funding this year and are expected to lose another $30 million in state funding next year due to the expiration of the state’s hold harmless provision. The provision allowed districts to use pre-pandemic enrollment figures to calculate state funding but will expire in June 2022.
SB 420 is the only bill left this session that would provide public schools with additional forms of state funding, despite the state’s nearly $300 million revenue surplus.
Where We Stand
The following House bills will move forward to the Senate:
- HB 1393, allowing districts to adopt school budget caps
- HB 1132, changing the requirements for a charter conversion school
- HB 1190, prohibiting the State Board of Education from adopting rules that require a school district to comply with federally mandated curriculum or program of study that is not fully funded by state or federal funds
- HB 1193, prohibiting charter schools from using non-application fees to be used as a condition for enrollment
- HB 1236, reestablishing a legislative oversight committee for education improvement and assessment
- HB 1261, prohibiting public schools and universities from using Native American mascots
- HB 1298, extending the income qualification for the education tax credit scholarship program to 500% of the federal poverty guidelines
- HB 1367, requiring school districts to submit the results of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services exam to the NH Department of Education, and requires school districts to provide accommodations for students who need them as part of an IEP
- HB 1381, requiring at least one student from each public high school maintained by the local school board as a nonvoting school board member
- HB 1434, requiring public schools and charter schools to make curriculum course materials available upon request from a parent, legal guardian, or resident of the public school district (or, in the case of charter schools, a resident of a sending school district)
- HB 1530, establishing curricular pathways between the Community College System of NH and the University System of NH
- HB 1639, requiring parental “opt-in” and school board approval of the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS)
- HB 1671, adding rhetoric and logic and personal finance literacy to the core academic domains of an adequate education
The following Senate bills will cross over to the House:
- SB 236, establishing a committee to study NH teacher workforce shortages and recruitment incentives
- (likely) SB 420, establishing an extraordinary need grant for schools
- SB 234, requiring student ID cards to include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- SB 386, making technical changes to the calculation of the state adequate education grants
- SB 410, requiring local school boards and the State Board of Education to hold public comment periods at school board meetings (except for emergency meetings or non-public sessions)