House passes school funding bill, teacher workforce study group; tables school budget tax cap bill

The NH House of Representatives passed several bills during a two-day session May 4 and 5 including SB 420, creating a $25 million extraordinary need grant for towns with low property tax bases, and SB 236, creating a committee to study teacher workforce incentives and recruitment.  

The House tabled SB 400, which is a housing affordability bill that was amended to include language to allow school district voters to adopt a school budget tax cap. 

The House also passed SB 329, which would require a 60% supermajority vote to override a local tax cap, and SB 358, which changes the structure of the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR), the state’s legislative oversight committee. The bill effectively reduces the number of votes necessary to pass administrative rules from six votes to three. 

SB 420: Extraordinary need grants

SB 420 would create a $25 million “extraordinary need” grant for towns that have low property tax bases in 2022 and 2023. The grant would be awarded based on a sliding scale and would provide towns like Charlestown, Berlin, Concord, and Winchester with additional state aid for public schools. The town-by-town estimates can be found starting on page 5 of this document.

The House Finance Committee stripped a proposed $14 million in additional special education funding from the bill. The additional funding was added by the House Education Committee last month, but House Finance Chair Karen Umberger (R-Kearsarge) wrote in her report that “the Finance Committee did not believe the Education Trust Fund could support both of these programs.”

The Education Trust Fund, which is the state’s bank account to pay for public schools and other education-related programs, is short of projections so far this year. According to state budget experts, the statewide school voucher program (known as “Education Freedom Accounts”) accounted for about $8 million of that shortage, while higher-than-anticipated student enrollment in public schools accounted for $2.4 million of the shortage. 

The bill will have to go back to the Senate for approval, since it was amended to expand the eligibility requirements of the Education Tax Credit program. 

SB 236: Teacher workforce incentives and recruitment

SB 236 would create a study committee to examine the current state of the educator workforce, as well as identify strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers of color, and educators to work in rural and underserved school districts. 

According to the NH Department of Education, about 90% of teacher endorsements in the state were on the “critical shortage” list in 2021. Nationally, states and communities are implementing innovative strategies to recruit and retain qualified educators amid a national teacher shortage in many areas. Tennessee, for example, has created a ‘grow your own’ program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, to use apprenticeships to train high-quality candidates to teach in their own communities. Michigan is working towards investing $300 to $500 million dollars over the next five years to increase the recruitment and retention of educators from diverse backgrounds, support teachers and teacher candidates, and sustain a variety of initiatives to increase and support the educator workforce. 

If the bill is signed, the committee would begin its work this summer. They would have until November 1, 2023, to file their report and recommendations. 

The bill will have to go back to the Senate for approval, since it was amended to expand the definition of “secondary school grades” to include grades 7 and 8 for the purposes of teacher loan forgiveness programs. 

Read more: Fostering inclusivity and high-quality instruction: Strategies for diversifying the educator workforce

SB 400: School Budget Caps

The House tabled SB 400, which included a provision that would allow school district voters to adopt a school district budget cap. The Senate killed the original bill, HB 1393, in late April over a multitude of concerns that it would negatively impact public schools. 

The bill would have allowed school district voters to adopt an annual school district budget cap equal to a set per-student amount multiplied by the number of students in the district. The per-student amount could be adjusted annually based on a percentage set by voters or using a federal inflation index. 

To many, the recent controversy in Croydon, where voters slashed the school budget by 53%, served as a warning of what could happen under the school budget cap bill. The town has a special meeting scheduled for Saturday, May 7, to vote to adopt a budget closer to the originally proposed one. 

SB 358: Reorganizing the Legislative Oversight Committee

SB 358, originally titled “declaring October 2022 as eczema awareness month,” was amended to reorganize the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR), the state’s legislative oversight committee. 

JLCAR is currently made up of five Senators and five Representatives. SB 358 would change the law to expand the makeup of the committee to six Senators and nine Representatives. It would also establish three divisions of five members each, who would have “policy expertise” in the issue area. Each division would have the authority of the full committee (except when entering a final objection), meaning that a majority vote of the five-member division could approve rules on behalf of the 15-member committee. 

The primary function of JLCAR is to make sure that rule proposals from state agencies follow all applicable laws. It is not a policy-making committee, and does not determine whether the rules are “good” or “bad” policy. The committee has voted on a number of important education-related rules over the past three years, including rules overseeing the statewide school voucher program, Learn Everywhere, and others. 

The bill will have to head back to the Senate for approval, since the original proposal was replaced entirely by the JLCAR language. 

Next Steps

Since they were amended, SB 236, SB 358, and SB 420 will each head back to the Senate for approval. The Senate may vote to agree with the changes, in which case each bill will head to the Governor’s desk; disagree with the changes, in which case that bill will die; or request a “committee of conference,” where they will form a small group of Senators and Representatives to iron out a compromise bill.