NH Education News Digest, Summer 2022

Dear Friends and Colleagues: 

Let’s face it: Summer never seems to deliver that languid, laid-back pace many of us remember from childhood and dream of recapturing each year. But what it does offer, at times, is a different pace. At Reaching Higher, we spend much of our summer immersed in research projects that help inform and contextualize the fast-paced policy developments that drive our schedule for the rest of the year. This summer, we’re working on a variety of projects, including analyzing the results of our statewide teacher survey, updating the data in our Whole Picture of Public Education project, and creating toolkits and resources to bridge policy to students, educators, and community members. Meanwhile, we’re gearing up for an election season, legislative session, and legal chapter that could prove pivotal to public education. This issue of the NH Education News Digest offers a peek at all of that, along with a 2022 policy recap and a roundup of education news to get you up to speed. If you’re lucky enough to have a little leisure time, you can use it as a diving board for a deeper plunge into an issue that ties many of these topics together: school funding. With a new school funding lawsuit in the works and another scheduled for trial this winter, we’ve curated some resources that help provide a fuller picture of how schools are funded in New Hampshire. We hope you’ll find them helpful.

Thanks, as always, for reading, 

The Reaching Higher NH team

School vouchers and funding are top issues in upcoming election

State funding for public schools and school voucher programs are among the top issues Granite Staters want candidates to address in the 2022 election, according to the NH non-profit Citizens Count. 

Citizens Count surveys candidates for state and federal offices in New Hampshire each election year, relying on input from policy advocates, stakeholders, and the general public to shape its survey questions. The state’s “education freedom account” program and the level of per-pupil public school funding from the state both made the list of the top five issues to ask on candidate surveys – suggesting that these topics will be key factors in the 2022 election. School vouchers, which were passed last year in spite of overwhelming public opposition, rank third on the list. School funding, a perennial election issue, ranks fifth on the list. Read the full article here

Spotlight on the Teaching Profession

One of the most important elements of a high-quality education is a strong, diverse, and well-supported teaching profession. In New Hampshire and nationally, schools are facing a critical shortage of qualified educators, school staff, and school leaders. Our state and communities must come together to think about how we can recruit and retain great educators. Reaching Higher is supporting these critical conversations in a variety of ways, including a statewide educator survey, completed last month. Stay tuned for the results, which we expect to publish in Fall 2022, and read more about our efforts to strengthen and diversify the teaching profession here

The educator shortage has created a variety of challenges and inspired a variety of innovative strategies across the state and country. In Manchester and other cities, for example, it contributes to a stark mismatch between student body demographics and teacher demographics: about 45% of students in Manchester are people of color, while 98% of NH teachers are white.

Middle Schoolers get a glimpse of CTE pathways at alumni events

Faith Lanzillo talks to students about CTE at the Daisy Bronson Middle School in Littleton.

Faith Lanzillo didn’t know career and technical education existed when she was in middle school. Now an emergency medical technician and college student, Lanzillo credits her high school’s CTE program with setting her on a solid career path. “It was a big game changer for me,” she said. “I feel like it’s important for kids to know it exists.”

Lanzillo is one of several CTE alumni sharing their stories at a series of grant-funded CTE events designed to introduce young people to CTE at an earlier age, expanding awareness and affording them more time to explore all options as they prepare for high school and life thereafter.

“It’s just giving students a little bit of, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing. This is what we’re about,” said Stephanie Gray-Lemay, an Education Consultant for the Bureau of Career Development at the NH Department of Education. 

Read the full story here. 

New school funding lawsuit joins list of funding reform initiatives

A new lawsuit filed in Grafton County Superior Court in June contends that New Hampshire’s education funding formula is inequitable to taxpayers. The plaintiffs, which include three Penacook residents and one Plymouth resident, say that the state’s failure to adequately fund education results in local property tax rates that vary widely from town to town and place an undue burden on towns with lower tax bases. 

The case is similar to the ConVal lawsuit, which is scheduled for trial in Rockingham County in early 2023, but emphasizes tax rates as opposed to per-pupil funding. 

“The two cases are “symbiotic,” Reaching Higher Policy Director Christina Pretorius told the New Hampshire Bulletin in an article published last month. “One talks about how much education actually costs: the real cost of providing an adequate education, the real cost of educating our kids. Whereas the other talks about how we raise that money.” 

New Hampshire’s Constitution makes it clear that the state is responsible for providing an adequate education for all students, Steve Rand, of Plymouth, one of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit, explained in a recent podcast produced by InDepthNH. “We all share the same obligation to our kids’ future,” he said. 

These latest cases have deep and complex roots. The following items from Reaching Higher’s resource library offer valuable context and background for the school funding debate: 

2022 Policy Recap

The 2022 Legislative session was one of dramatic ups and downs for education. Reaching Higher tracked more than 150 education-related bills, several of which made it to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk and were signed into law in June and July. They include: 

  • HB 1661, which requires career and technical education (CTE) centers and sending school districts to enter into agreements that align their schedules, access, transportation, and credits. Read more here
  • HB 1671, which adds personal finance literacy to the core requirements for an adequate education and expands on some existing requirements. The original bill stripped world languages and arts education from the core requirements and suggested these domains be rolled into the remaining requirements, but sponsors amended the bill following an outpouring of public opposition. Read more here
  • SB 381, a bipartisan bill that creates an independent office of the advocate for special education to ensure schools comply with disabilities laws and serve as a point of contact for students with disabilities and their families. Read more here. 
  • HB 1132, which removes school staff approval as a requirement for converting an existing public school to a charter school.
  • SB 420, which establishes an extraordinary need grant for schools based on student eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch. 
  • SB 236, which establishes a committee to study teacher shortages and recruitment incentives. 

Key education bills that were defeated during the 2022 session include: 

  • HB 1431, which would have created a “parental bill of rights,” requiring schools to inform parents about conversations with their children on a number of topics, including gender expression or identity. The bill was narrowly defeated in the House after being passed by a Committee of Conference. Gov. Sununu had vowed to veto it. Read more here
  • HB 1393, which included a provision allowing school district voters to adopt a district budget cap. Read more here
  • HB 607, which would have created a localled funded school voucher program. Read more here
  • Several bills attempting to rein in the state school voucher program that was passed in 2021. 

Staff from Reaching Higher NH and the NH School Funding Fairness Project. Photo by Cheryl Senter.

Reaching Higher NH featured in NH Charitable Foundation’s Annual Report

The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s 2021 Annual Report highlights Reaching Higher NH and the NH School Funding Fairness Project for the work we’re doing to ensure equitable access to opportunity for all young people in the state. “All children in New Hampshire deserve a high-quality public education that will set them on the road to success in life,” the report reads. “But only some children are lucky enough to get that.” Reaching Higher is one of more than 2,000 nonprofit organizations that received support last year from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, which awards more than $60 million in grants and scholarships each year.

How Can Parents Best Support Teachers? We Asked
Education Week, Hayley Hardison, June 28, 2022

‘I’m terrified’: As new laws take effect, LGBTQ students and allies fear the consequences
Chalkbeat, Patrick Wall, July 8, 2022

Mental health: Is that a job for schools? 
The Hechinger Report, Chelsea Sheasley, June 29, 2022