The House is buzzing with activity as they quickly reach the first round of deadlines to act on legislation: the House Education Committee has until February 16 to hold public hearings for, and vote on, bills with a financial impact. For others, they have until March 16.
With that in mind, here are the five key things to know this week:
- Lawmakers delayed a vote on a key school funding bill that would restore two state funding sources for high-poverty school districts and school districts with low tax capacity in New Hampshire. The House Education Committee was supposed to vote on a recommendation for the bill on Monday, February 6, but delayed the vote until next week.
- Bills that both expand the school voucher program and restrict it will go to the House floor with no recommendation, which could signal how the House Education Committee will decide its most controversial legislation with its membership evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. With no majority, the fate of the highly controversial bills will likely be decided based on who turns out on the House session day.
- There will be a public hearing on a bill that would eliminate residency requirements for students to attend public schools, essentially creating a statewide “open enrollment” environment that adds a layer of complexity to our already inequitable and complex public education environment.
- National culture wars are taking root in New Hampshire, with a bill that could remove protections for K-12 teachers and staff for having materials in their building that could be deemed “harmful to minors.” With similar bills taking hold in other states like Florida and Texas, HB 514 is raising concerns that teachers could face a prison sentence of up to 7 years if they share a book that’s considered obscene under New Hampshire’s law.
- There are two public hearings on a nearly identical bill to allow students to receive credit for religious instruction. HB 382 and HB 634 would give the State Board of Education the authority to adopt rules to allow students to be dismissed from school for religious instruction and granted elective credit.
School funding bill vote delayed
The House Education Committee delayed voting on a recommendation for HB 529, which would provide approximately $100 million in state funding for New Hampshire’s highest-need schools through two funding sources: Fiscal Capacity Disparity Aid (FCDA) and Enhanced Free and Reduced Price Lunch (EFRL). Both funding sources were established in previous years, but were eliminated in 2022.
The House was scheduled to vote on it on Monday, February 6, but Education Chair Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill) announced that the vote would be postponed until next week.
School vouchers divide committee
Over the past two weeks, the House Education Committee couldn’t agree on recommendations for several school voucher bills:
- HB 367, which would expand school voucher eligibility by raising the income limit and effectively doubling eligibility for the program;
- HB 430, which would require students to attend a public school for at least a year before becoming eligible for a school voucher (unless they are entering kindergarten or first grade);
- HB 440, which would change the statute to allow the state to use money in the Education Trust Fund to pay for the statewide school voucher program.
The taxpayer-funded accounts have cost the state roughly $24 million in state funds since it began enrolling students in August 2021. According to NH Department of Education estimates, the program will cost the state $30 million per year in 2024 and 2025. Most of the funds are going to families who have already enrolled their students in private schools or homeschools, even before applying for a voucher.
The bills will go before the full House later this month.
Eliminating residency requirements
While previous attempts at making New Hampshire an “open enrollment” state have failed, Representative Josh Yokela (R-Fremont) has introduced a bill, HB 441, that would remove residency requirements for students and would require school districts to adopt admission policies for out-of-district students.
Open enrollment isn’t new — other states like Arizona, Florida, and Oklahoma have open enrollment laws that require districts to adopt enrollment policies to accept out-of-district students. But research has indicated that open enrollment policies don’t benefit students and can lead to arbitrarily denying students access to intra-district schools.
And the state’s inequitable school funding formula creates a challenge for all students and families in the state: by forcing schools to rely mostly on local property taxes, the state limits student opportunity based on the capacity of the community to raise taxes to pay for their schools.
“If the state is interested in making sure all students have access to a high-quality public education, the state must fully and fairly fund it, rather than create more loopholes and workarounds,” said Reaching Higher NH Policy Director Christina Pretorius.
The student’s resident district would be responsible for paying the full tuition of the school that the student attends, even if it is out of district — and even if it is significantly more than the cost of the resident district’s cost to operate their public schools. This could put strains on local school district budgets and could limit resources available for students who attend their resident district schools.
The public hearing for this bill is scheduled for Tuesday, February 7, 2023, at 9:30 am in the House Education Committee, Room 205-207 of the Legislative Office Building.
Watch the Livestream available on Youtube here.
National culture wars continue in New Hampshire
HB 514, as written, would do two things:
- Remove protections for K-12 educators and school staff under the state’s “obscene content” law; and,
- Require school boards to adopt a policy for parents/guardians to file complaints about materials that they feel are “harmful to minors.”
By removing protections for K-12 educators and school staff, teachers could be found guilty of a Class B felony and face a prison sentence of up to 7 years if they share a book that’s considered obscene under New Hampshire’s law.
Heated debates around classroom materials, books, and academic freedom are hitting state and local decision makers nationwide. At the same time, parents are concerned about politicians making decisions about what happens in the classroom. From U.S. News:
“A new survey shows that 68% of parents worry some or a lot about having politicians who are not educators making decisions about what happens in the classroom – the biggest concern reported overall and one that far outweighs their concern over someone in the family contracting COVID-19 or being able to pay bills.”
The survey, administered by Learning Heroes, can be downloaded here.
A public hearing for the bill is scheduled for Wednesday, February 8, 2023, at 9:45 am in the House Education Committee, Room 205-207 of the Legislative Office Building.
Granting credit for religious instruction
There are two public hearings on a nearly identical bill to allow students to receive credit for religious instruction. HB 382 and HB 634 would give the State Board of Education the authority to adopt rules to allow students to be dismissed from school for religious instruction and granted elective credit.
There will be public hearings for both bills tomorrow: HB 382 at 9:00 am, and HB 634, at 3:15 pm, both in the House Education Committee, Room 205-207 of the Legislative Office Building.
Watch the Livestream available on Youtube here.
How to Testify
You can testify in person by attending the hearing at the specified time and date. All public hearings this week are scheduled to be held at the Legislative Office Building, 33 N State Street, Concord, NH, Room 205-207. Once there, register to testify by filling out a pink card, which are on the table by the door.
You can also submit written testimony by emailing the House Education Committee at HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us, or through this online portal: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/remotetestimony/default.aspx
You can register your support or opposition without submitting written testimony through the online portal: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/remotetestimony/default.aspx
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