Legislative Update: House will vote on universal school voucher expansion on Thursday while committee considers cutting revenues for public services, including public schools

After a marathon voting session last week, the House is scheduled to vote on universal school voucher expansion this Thursday, which could cost the state over $105 million per year. At the same time, the House Ways and Means Committee will vote on a recommendation for HB 1422, which would reduce state revenues by $374 million per year according to the NH Fiscal Policy Institute, leaving less money for public schools and other public services. 

The pair of policy proposals follow the same trend as Arizona, where the state started with a $1.8 billion state surplus, but massive tax cuts and a universal school voucher program will result in a nearly $1 billion budget deficit over the next two years. (Read more: Arizona Lawmakers Face Big Deficit Due Mostly to Massive Tax Cut and School Voucher Expansion

Also this week: Thousands of people are showing up at a public hearing today (Monday) in support of public schools, in response to a Republican bill that would ban social emotional learning in schools. Republican lawmakers also introduced a bill that would waive licensing and certification requirements for public school teachers who work less than 30 hours per week. 

As of publishing time (2 p.m.), 3,834 people opposed the social emotional learning ban, with about 117 supporting. 

“This bill seems less about supporting and nurturing our children and more about the profound and troubling trend: the active dismantling of the public education system,” Dr. Mary Steady, Director of Pupil Services in the Lin-Wood Cooperative School District, told the committee in her opposition on Monday. 

Universal school vouchers on the docket for Thursday

The House will vote on three school voucher expansion bills: 

  • HB 1634, expanding eligibility to every school-aged child in New Hampshire, regardless of income (universal eligibility).
  • HB 1561, expanding eligibility to every school-aged child in New Hampshire by creating loopholes in the current income threshold, including concerns about the common cold. 
  • HB 1665, expanding eligibility by increasing the income eligibility threshold from 350% of federal guidelines ($105,000 for a family of four) to 500% ($150,000 for a family of four). 

HB 1634 and HB 1561 are universal bills, while HB 1665 would increase the income eligibility threshold. If passed, a family of four that makes $156,000 per year would qualify for a school voucher

According to US Census Data, about 63% of children in New Hampshire meet that income eligibility threshold, meaning that eligibility for the program would likely increase by 75% since the program started in 2021. Incrementally increasing the income eligibility threshold has been a tactic of House Republicans since it was implemented in 2021, and it is expected to continue until the program has universal eligibility, like programs in Florida and Arizona. 

The school voucher program already costs the state about $25 million this school year, and using current enrollment figures, RHNH estimates that HB 1665 could cost the state up to $66 million per year. 

School vouchers have been shown to result in “catastrophic academic harm,” according to researchers. Researchers have stated that school vouchers “cause catastrophic academic harm” and have had a worse impact on student outcomes than any other policy or event in public school history, including the global pandemic.

Two other voucher bills — HB 1677, which expands eligibility based on district test scores, and HB 1652, which creates a locally-funded school voucher program — aren’t on the docket this week. Those bills are expected to be on next week’s House schedule. 

Corporate tax cuts would deeply diminish revenues for public services

On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee will vote on a recommendation for HB 1422, which would cut business taxes and eliminate the communication services tax. 

According to the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, HB 1422 would result in $6 billion less revenue for state services over six years. Once fully phased in, the state would have $374 million less per year

Between 2016 and 2023, lawmakers have cut business taxes. However, an analysis by NHFPI found no evidence that those business tax cuts resulted in economic growth; instead, they found that the state lost between $496 million and $729 million in revenue. 

Business taxes are one of the main sources of revenue for the Education Trust Fund (ETF), which funds public and charter schools in New Hampshire. Cutting business taxes means less money for education, which may pose problems because of a Superior Court ruling that the state is underfunding public schools by over $500 million per year. 

The proposed tax cut, paired with the proposal to substantially grow the state’s school voucher program, is what led to Arizona’s nearly $1 billion state budget deficit. Since expanding eligibility to all students, Arizona’s school voucher program costs the state $900 million per year — a growth of 400% since it expanded universally. 

The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to have a work session on HB 1422 on Monday and Tuesday and is scheduled to vote on a recommendation on the bill on Tuesday at 1 p.m. Contact the committee by emailing HouseWaysAndMeansCommittee@leg.state.nh.us 

Read more from NHFPI: Proposed Tax Reductions Would Deeply Diminish Revenues for Public Services and State Business Tax Rate Reductions Led to Between $496 Million and $729 Million Less for Public Services

Backlash against social emotional learning ban

On Monday, Representative John Sellers (R-Bristol) introduced HB 1473, which would ban social emotional learning (SEL) in public schools. The bill would also ban schools from collecting or using data from students pertaining to school climate, including “education, confidence, connections, motivations, stress, and/or well-being.” 

As of Monday morning, over 3,800 people signed in opposition to the bill. 

The New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-NH) strongly urged the committee to reject the bill, citing the youth mental health crisis. 

“SEL is increasingly recognized as playing a critical role in the promotion of positive mental health and the prevention of mental health disorders among children and youth,” NAMI-NH wrote in their written testimony. “It promotes positive development that forms the foundation of mental wellbeing for all students. It assists students in developing skills to manage emotions and behavior thus developing self-esteem and confidence.”

“Social-emotional learning (SEL) is not a frivolous addition to our educational framework; it is a cornerstone that nurtures the holistic development of our children,” wrote Amy Kopp, an educator of 28 years, in opposition to HB 1473. “By integrating SEL into the curriculum, schools provide students with invaluable tools for navigating the complexities of relationships, emotions, and societal interactions. These skills are not only essential for academic achievement but also for fostering resilient, empathetic, and socially responsible individuals who can thrive in an ever-changing world.”

The House Education Committee held a public hearing on the bill on Monday, February 5. The online portal to submit testimony will be open until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, which can be found here.

House committee to consider allowing unlicensed teachers in the classroom 

Also on Monday, Representative Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) will introduce HB 1298, which would allow individuals to teach in public schools without credentials or a teaching license, as long as they work less than 30 hours per week. 

The bill is similar to a companion senate bill, SB 522, which passed the Senate in January along party lines. 

Waiving credentials and licensure requirements is being presented as a way to ease the state’s teacher shortage. However, research shows that teachers are leaving the state because of a lack of pay, school climate and culture, and the politicization of education. The state’s underfunding of public schools results in wide disparities in teacher pay between districts, and recent and ongoing attacks on educators and public education both at the state level and in local school districts has been cited as a key reason that teachers are leaving the state and profession. 

A legislative study committee tasked with studying the teacher shortage issued recommendations in November 2023, and there were key directives for lawmakers — but waiving certification requirements was not one of them. Directives included increasing state funding for public schools so that they could pay teachers competitively, addressing concerns with controversial policies like the divisive concepts law, and establishing incentive programs for teachers. 

Decades of research indicates that one of the most important elements of a high-quality education is a strong, diverse, and well supported teaching profession. Students learn more when their teachers are certified:

We concluded that the advantage of having a certified teacher is worth about two months on a grade-equivalent scale. The school year is 10 months long, so the loss from having an undercertified teacher is 20 percent of an academic year. In other words, students pay a 20 percent penalty in academic growth for each year of placement with under-certified teachers. (Source: In Harm’s Way: How Undercertified Teachers Hurt Their Students

The House Education Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill on Monday, February 5. The online portal to submit testimony will be open until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, which can be found here.

This Week

Monday, February 5, 2024

House Education, Legislative Office Building, Room 205-207

  • 9:30 AM HB1185 relative to sexual education instruction.
  • 10:15 AM HB1473 relative to social-emotional learning in public schools.
  • 11:00 AM HB1625 relative to school health services.
  • 12:45 PM HB1298 relative to the definition of part-time teachers.
  • 1:15 PM HB1458 relative to authorizing parents to remove children from the English Language Learner Program.
  • 1:45 PM HB1496 relative to the state’s duty to protect children in public schools.
  • 2:15 PM HB1692 relative to public high school graduation requirements.
  • 3:00 PM HB1682 relative to the civics test graduation requirement.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

House Education, Legislative Office Building, Room 205-207

  • 9:30 AM HB1312 requiring parental notification of student health or well-being and certain curricula by school districts.
  • 10:15 AM HB1356 relative to the use of children’s names and pronouns by public school employees.
  • 11:00 AM HB1162 relative to teaching discrimination in public schools and discrimination in public workplaces.
  • 1:00 PM HB1671 relative to the complaint process for teaching discrimination and allowing educators and school officials a right of action for damages and costs for false accusations.
  • 1:45 PM HB1643 requiring school districts to make curriculum and instructional materials available on their web pages.
  • 2:15 PM HB1235 relative to high school students serving as school board members.
  • 2:45 PM HB1616 relative to parental consent for student participation in Medicaid to schools program.

Senate Education, Legislative Office Building, Room 205-207

  • 9:00 AM SB526 relative to a public school facility condition assessment and school building aid grants for temperature control.
  • 9:15 AM SB524 relative to women’s sports.

Wednesday February 7, 2024

House Education, Legislative Office Building, Room 205-207

Executive Session starts at 9:30am

  • 9:30 AM HB1517 relative to the statewide education property tax and excess revenue from games of chance.
  • 9:30 AM HB1583 relative to the per pupil cost of an opportunity for an adequate education.
  • 9:30 AM HB1586 establishing a foundation opportunity budget program for funding public education.
  • 9:30 AM HB1686 relative to requiring excess revenues raised through the statewide education property tax to be remitted to the education trust fund and prohibiting the department of revenue administration from setting negative local and county tax rates on real property.
  • 9:30 AM HB1656 relative to increasing the adequacy grant for pupils receiving special education services.
  • 9:30 AM HB1509 prohibiting spending of special education moneys for any other purpose and requiring reporting of fund balances to the school board.
  • 9:30 AM HB1265 relative to the penalty for failure to file school expenditure reports, and relative to certain adequacy grants.
  • 9:30 AM HB1382 relative to special education support for military-connected students.
  • 9:30 AM HB1311 relative to school district collection development and reconsideration policies.
  • 9:30 AM HB1452 relative to credentials for the position of superintendent of schools and school business officer.
  • 9:30 AM HB1552 relative to the duties and responsibilities of superintendents of school administrative units.
  • 9:30 AM HB1176 establishing a commission to study current funding for special education and potential other funding sources.
  • 9:30 AM HB1014 relative to the registration of high school students to vote.
  • 9:30 AM HB1397 relative to information on student placement based on achievement of course competencies.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

House Session 

Starts at 10:00am

Senate Session

Starts at 10:00am