Legislative Update: State board to hold hearing on standards overhaul; residents urge lawmakers to increase funding for public schools

It’s a critical week for public schools in New Hampshire: the NH State Board of Education is holding its first of two public hearings on proposals that overhaul the state’s Minimum Standards for Public School Approval, which are the foundational rules by which all public schools in NH must adhere. A House subcommittee will meet to vote on whether to move forward with a bill that would increase state funding for public schools at a cost: the bill would also cap local spending on public schools beyond what the state provides. 

These come as the NH Department of Education is under fire for blocking access to key data about the state’s school voucher program from state auditors and for having a “disorganized and burdensome” process for special education complaints. 

On Thursday, the Senate will meet to vote on key education bills, including SB 341, the mandatory disclosure bill, and SB 525, which would close income eligibility loopholes in the statewide school voucher program as recommended by a legislative oversight committee last year.

We’d like to take a moment to honor Representative Art Ellison, who passed away last week. Art was a steadfast advocate for kids and a strong supporter of public schools. He was most passionate about making sure that no kid would go hungry and championed school breakfast and meal programs. Read about his life and legacy in the Concord Monitor: Art Ellison has one dying wish: Feed all New Hampshire students 

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and join the New Hampshire Education Network (NHEN), our network of New Hampshire parents, educators, business leaders, and community members to stay up to date on the latest developments in education policy.

Minimum Standards for Public School Approval Hearing April 3 

The NH State Board of Education is holding a public hearing on the NH Department of Education’s proposed overhaul of the Minimum Standards for Public School Approval, also known as the ED 306s, on Wednesday, April 3, at 1:00 p.m. The hearing will be held at the NH Department of Education building, 25 Hall Street, Concord, NH. The hearing will be for the first half of the rule proposal, which includes ED 306.01 through ED 306.25, which can be found here:  Initial Proposal – February 15, 2024 

The NH Department of Education (NHED) has proposed an overhaul of the state’s school approval rules, with significant implications for public schools across New Hampshire. Reaching Higher NH has distilled the major takeaways of NHED’s overhaul into five key themes:

  1. Redefining the purpose and structure of school
  2. Hollowing out instructional requirements 
  3. Removal of local authority
  4. Lawmaking through rules
  5. Potential school funding implications

There has been significant public concern that the proposal would undermine public schools by weakening the standards to which our public schools are held. 

“The NHED’s proposed overhaul of the minimum standards is the most concerning one we’ve seen to date,” said Nicole Heimarck, Executive Director at Reaching Higher NH. “Despite years of public outcry and recommendations, the NHED doubled down some of the most controversial changes, forging ahead on a path of undermining public schools and eviscerating local control.”

Read more: Overhaul of public school minimum standards are a cause of concern for future of public education in New Hampshire

UPDATE: Reaching Higher NH has become aware that there are changes that will be recommended to the NH State Board of Education, but RHNH’s review has found that those recommended changes are largely superficial and create the appearance of having addressed concerns. The recommended changes do not, in our review, substantially change the adverse impact of the proposal. 

Learn more and find more resources about the school approval rules here: Minimum Standards for Public School Approval

School funding bills scheduled for executive session in House Finance

On Tuesday, April 2, the House Finance Committee will meet to vote on whether to move forward with an amendment to a school funding bill that would increase state funding by about $500 million per year, but would cap local spending for public schools. 

There was broad bipartisan support for the bill when the House voted on it in February, when it was limited to the restoration of two state funding programs. The bill would add $62 million in state funding to schools and communities with the highest need. 

In March, Representative Tracy Emerick (R-Hampton) proposed an amendment that would increase the per-student state funding to $7,356.01 to align with the ruling in the ConVal vs. NH school funding case. The bill wouldn’t impose any new taxes; instead, it would raise the funds by increasing the statewide education property tax. 

But the proposal comes with a catch: the amendment includes a budgeting cap for school districts, meaning that school boards cannot propose school district budgets that exceed a certain amount per year. The cap applies even when a school has legal or contractual requirements and even if the school district’s revenue goes up. 

The intent would be to prevent overall spending on schools, which has risen in the past few years for a variety of reasons: increased staffing and support needs in responding to learning loss during the COVID pandemic, evolving special education needs, and increasing health insurance premiums, to name a few.

But according to school leaders and education experts, capping allocations often results in teacher layoffs and/or cuts to academic and extracurricular programs. There is no workaround for contractual agreements, like contracts with school bus companies or staff contracts, and unlike tax caps, limiting allocations to a set amount means that the district can’t adapt if they receive more funding, like from a grant or from the state. 

Last week, there was strong support for the original version of the bill and apprehension with the amendment. 

Mayors of nine cities across New Hampshire submitted a letter in strong support of HB 1583 and urging the committee to oppose the amendment, stating: 

“There is a significant gap between the actual cost of education and what the State of New Hampshire provides to municipalities. While the state currently provides $4,100 per student in adequacy aid, districts across New Hampshire spend an average of $20,000 per student, with the majority of this difference being shouldered by local property taxpayers. Unique community profiles and tough decision-making often result in differences in tax rates and the quality of education provided to students throughout New Hampshire. However, reliable and sufficient spending by the State of New Hampshire on education will help to improve opportunities for all

students. Let’s invest in the futures of our students and our state by providing a well-funded education to all.”

Mark Decoteau, town manager of Waterville Valley, supported increasing funding for public schools but opposed the increase in state property tax: “We deeply care about ensuring a quality education for our children and will continue our support for a fair and comprehensive approach for education funding in New Hampshire, but will continue to oppose any plan which requires property taxes raised in one community, sent to another community and used without any accountability for this use.”

Read more here: Lawmakers face dueling priorities: Expanding school vouchers or restoring funding for public schools? 

Senate to vote on several high-profile bills on Thursday  

A handful of high-profile bills are on the calendar for Thursday in the Senate Session, including:

  • SB341, a rebranded Parental Bill of Rights, creates sanctions for teachers and school staff. 
  • SB375, relative to biological sex in student athletics. 
  • SB523-FN, relative to the regulation of public school library materials. 
  • SB524, relative to women’s sports. 
  • SB525-FN, relative to administration of the education freedom accounts program.

House passes part-time teacher adjunct authorization 

Last week, the House passed a bill that would authorize individuals to teach in public schools without certification or licensure as long as they work less than 20 hours per week, have a 4-year college degree in the field in which they would teach, and have worked in the field for at least 5 years. 

HB 1298 would create an “adjunct authorization” for uncertified teachers to teach subjects that are listed in state or local critical shortage areas. It now heads to the Senate. 

That same week, the House Education Committee held a public hearing on a Senate bill that would allow uncertified and unlicensed teachers to work in public schools for up to 30 hours, without the education or work experience requirements of HB 1298. The bill was met with sharp opposition from the public, and a recommendation for the bill has not yet been scheduled. 

Read more here: Teacher Certification and Student Outcomes: What the Research Says


Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Senate Education, Legislative Office Building, Room 101 Regular Meeting Starting at 9:00 am

  • 9:00 AM HB1109 (New Title) relative to requiring student identification cards to include the helpline for the National Alliance for Eating Disorders and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
  • 9:10 AM HB1235 relative to high school students serving as school board members.
  • 9:20 AM HB1469 relative to the retention of individualized education program records.
  • 9:30 AM HB1524 relative to authorizing parents of special education children to observe in the classroom setting.
  • 9:40 AM HB1695 relative to the release of student personally identifiable information.

House Finance, Legislative Office Building Room 210-211 Executive Session Starting at 11:30 am

  • HB1583 relative to the per pupil cost of an opportunity for an adequate education.
  • HB1656 (New Title) relative to adequate education grant amounts for pupils receiving special education services.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

House Education, Legislative Office Building, Room 206-208 Regular Meeting Starting at 10:00 am

  • Presentation by the LBA Audit Division on the Audit of Special Education Dispute Resolution Processes.

State Board of Education Public Hearing for ED 306, Hearing Starting at 1:00 pm

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Senate Session, Starting at 10:00 am 

  • SB341, a rebranded Parental Bill of Rights, creates sanctions for teachers and school staff. 
  • SB375, relative to biological sex in student athletics. 
  • SB523-FN, relative to the regulation of public school library materials. 
  • SB524, relative to women’s sports. 
  • SB525-FN, relative to administration of the education freedom accounts program.