Senate kicks off 2024 with public hearings on school voucher expansion, school building aid, and rebranded parental bill of rights

The NH Senate is opening the 2024 legislative session by re-introducing some of its most controversial legislation of 2023, including school voucher expansion and a rebranded parental bill of rights. 

Hearings on the bills are scheduled for Thursday, January 4, beginning at 9 a.m. in the Senate Education Committee. On the schedule:

  • 9:00 a.m.: SB 341, rebranding the Parental Bill of Rights and creating sanctions for teachers and school staff 
  • 9:20 a.m.: SB 342, overhauling the school building aid program to create a per-student Construction Allocation Program (CAP) Fund
  • 9:40 a.m.: SB 442, expanding school voucher eligibility based on school reassignment requests
  • 10:00 a.m.: SB 522, establishing an early childhood education scholarship account

The Senate Education Committee accepts public testimony in person at the Legislative Office Building, or electronically via their online portal or by emailing the committee members directly

SB 442: School voucher expansion

Senate Bill (SB) 442 would expand school voucher eligibility to any student who was denied a school reassignment request, regardless of family income. Under current law, every school-aged child in New Hampshire is eligible for a school voucher if they meet the income requirement (350% of the Federal Poverty Guideline, or $105,000 per year for a family of four). 

If the bill passes, school-aged children whose families make more than the income requirement would be eligible if they submitted a school reassignment request to their school board and were denied. However, there are open questions about how it would work in practice and whether it would complicate and delay the process for students who truly need a school reassignment. 

School reassignments

A parent or guardian may request to have their child moved to another school in certain cases if it is in the best interest of the student, or if a substantial portion of the student’s academic, physical, or personal needs cannot be met by their assigned school. The decisions are brought to the school superintendent, and then the decisions are made by the local school board.

Most school reassignment requests are resolved between the school board and parents, and if parents disagree with the decision, they can appeal to the State Board of Education. According to experts, the State Board of Education only hears approximately three appeals per year. 

SB 442 could complicate school reassignment request process

There is concern that by introducing the financial incentive of a school voucher, school boards may be forced to undertake more reassignment requests, bogging down the process and potentially hurting students who have legitimate requests. With more requests, it could take longer to consider each case. 

It’s also unclear whether students would have to appeal to the NH State Board of Education in order to be eligible for the school voucher. The text of SB 442 simply states that students are eligible if their “enrollment transfer request was denied pursuant to RSA 193:3,” which outlines the requirements for school reassignments. According to RSA 193:3, if the local school board denies a reassignment request, the parents may appeal to the NH State Board of Education. Under SB 442, parents may have to have their appeal denied by both the local and state school boards in order to be eligible. 

SB 442 could widely expand school voucher eligibility via school tuition requests

RSA 193:3 also outlines the process for school boards to contract with public and private schools in town tuitioning agreements. Because the bill text of SB 442 is unclear, it may open the door for any student who attends a private school to request that their school board enter into a town tuitioning agreement with the school they currently attend, have it denied, and be eligible for a school voucher. It is unclear if the bill sponsors’ intent was to include this section of RSA 193:3, and if not clarified, it could create confusion in the administration of the school voucher program and in school board deliberations.

There are over 15,000 students in private schools in New Hampshire, meaning that this expansion could substantially increase the number of students eligible for a school voucher, which could divert upwards of $45 million more in state funds to private schools. This year, the school voucher program costs the state over $22 million. 

SB 341: Imposing sanctions for teachers protecting student privacy 

Senate Bill (SB) 341 would create sanctions for teachers and school staff who do not give “complete and honest” answers to any written requests for information asked by parents. Under the proposed law, any employee of the school district would be subject to the law. If the employee feels it would endanger the student to provide the information, the employee would be required to file a report under the state’s Child Protection Act. 

The local school board would be responsible for determining whether the employee violates the law, and if so, would be required to discipline the employee “to include termination.” The parent has the right to appeal to the NH State Board of Education and does not give the school employee any right to an appeal. 

This bill appears to be a continuation of the House majority’s failed effort to pass a “parental bill of rights,” which Granite Staters sharply opposed in 2022 and 2023. Nationwide, conservative lawmakers have introduced similar legislation, most of which have failed. 

Politically-driven legislation has become a central theme in discussions around recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in New Hampshire. In 2023, a legislative committee met with dozens of school leaders, teachers, researchers, and administrators and found that politics in the classroom is driving teachers out of the classroom directly contributing to the state’s teacher shortage. 

SB 342: Overhauling the school building aid program

Senate Bill (SB) 342 would eliminate the state’s existing school building aid program and replace it with a per-student “Construction Allocation Program Fund” (CAP Fund) that would fund school districts a set amount based on their student enrollment. 

The state’s school building aid program provides school districts with funding to keep their buildings safe, up to code, and responsive to student needs. Under existing law, school districts apply for a building aid grant, ranging from 30-60% of the construction cost, with less wealthy communities receiving more aid than wealthier ones. The rate is based on median family income and the ability of the community to raise money through property taxes. The average grant is about 38%, according to the NHED.

The CAP Fund would change the way the state funds school infrastructure costs by creating a per-student allocation and setting aside those funds for schools to pursue approved projects. In order to access the funds, the school’s construction plans would have to be first approved by a newly created School Building Authority, and then accepted and approved by the Education Commissioner. 

The CAP Fund would start with $25 million in FY 2025, and would increase $5 million each fiscal year. In FY2025, the per-student CAP would be approximately $156 per student, assuming K-12 enrollment of about 160,583 students. If passed, the CAP Fund would provide districts with the following in FY2025:

  • Bedford: $625,404
  • Allenstown: $52,572
  • Governor Wentworth Regional School District: $329,940
  • Nashua: $1,509,975
  • Plymouth: $60,247
  • White Mountain Regional School District: $151,320

Note: these figures are for discussion purposes only and are subject to change depending on ADM-A. t

Next steps

The Senate Education Committee will hold public hearings on these bills on Thursday, January 4, beginning at 9 a.m.. It may hold an executive session to vote on recommendations for the bill immediately after. The Senate Education Committee accepts public testimony in person at the Legislative Office Building, or electronically via their online portal or by emailing the committee members directly. The committee meeting is scheduled to be live-streamed on YouTube via this link.

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