Legislative Update: Strong opposition to minimum standards overhaul; Senate passes school voucher expansion

There was sharp opposition to the NH Department of Education’s proposed overhaul of the state’s minimum standards for public school approval last week, with one school leader warning that the standards are “not a political playground.” A second day for public comment is scheduled for Thursday, April 11 at 1 p.m. in the NHED offices at 25 Hall Street, Concord, NH. 

More highlights from last week:

  • The Senate approved an expansion of the state’s school voucher program, extending eligibility to about half of New Hampshire’s children, but killed a bill that would have put in the guardrails that were recommended by a program oversight committee last year. The expansion could cost the state up to $53 million per year and now goes to the House for consideration. 
  • The Senate also approved a forced outing bill that youth advocates say would inhibit trusting relationships between students, parents, and teachers. They also approved a bill that would ban transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams, which has been a national rallying issue for conservative activists. 

On Thursday of this week, the House will vote on two school funding bills that would increase state funding to public schools by about $80 million. The two bills, HB 1583 and HB 1656, were already passed by the House in March and sent to the House Finance Committee. If passed, they will go to the Senate for approval. 

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Minimum standards overhaul takes center stage

The NH Department of Education’s proposed overhaul of the minimum standards for public school approval, also known as the ED 306s, took center stage last week. The feedback was almost unanimously in opposition to the rule proposal, which school leaders and public school advocates warned would weaken public schools, exacerbate long-standing inequities between school districts, and would harm New Hampshire’s students and teachers. 

“Commissioner Edelblut’s proposed changes walk back the state’s responsibility to define an adequate education, which then absolves the state of its future responsibility to pay for that adequate education.  If this responsibility is largely left to local school boards, an adequate education may look different in each district, thereby exacerbating the deep inequities we know exist in our state at this time,” Dover School Board member Michaela Demeter told the State Board at the hearing. 

There were also concerns that the proposed rules would divide communities.  

“They [the minimum standards]… are not political playgrounds to advance party agendas, regardless of what party that is,” Keene Superintendent Robb Malay told the State Board. 

A subcommittee of the House Education Committee met on Tuesday, April 9, to review the proposed changes, which they said were vast.

I am blown away by the degree of changes being proposed here… this isn’t just administrative cleanup, or housekeeping to clarify rules. This is an absolute turn [in policy],” Representative Dave Luneau (D-Hopkinton) said in a committee meeting. 

The State Board of Education will continue the public hearing on the proposed rules on Thursday, April 11 at 1 p.m. at the NHED offices at 25 Hall Street, Concord. The Board will also accept written comments until April 30. 

Watch a recording of the April 3 hearing on our YouTube page here: https://youtu.be/i4vyEHbOUug?si=cp5Uuy1yVg9EhE9x 

Senate approves school voucher expansion

On Friday, the NH Senate approved an expansion bill (SB 442) along party lines that would increase eligibility for school vouchers to roughly half of New Hampshire’s children. The cost of the voucher program could increase to about $53 million per year if all eligible homeschool and private school students were to enroll in the 2024-2025 school year. 

The bill also extends the state’s phase-out grant, which provides districts with funding for two years for each student who leaves their public school to enroll in the voucher program. The program provides school districts with 50% of their per-student state funding in the first year after they leave and 25% in the second year. The phase-out grant was supposed to sunset in 2026; however, SB 442 would extend it to 2029. 

Read more here: Senate to vote on voucher expansion on Friday

House to vote on school funding on Thursday

The House will vote on two major school funding bills on Thursday, HB 1583 and HB 1656. They are the only two active bills remaining this session: the House and Senate have killed or tabled other efforts to increase state funding amid a pair of lawsuits that found that the state has been underfunding public schools by $500 million every year for decades. 

HB 1583 would reinstate two funding programs: fiscal capacity disparity aid for districts with low property valuations, and relief aid for districts with high proportions of students who participate in the Free and Reduced Price Lunch program. It also increases base adequacy to $4,404 per student. According to state budget analysts, the bill would add about $62 million in state funding for public schools in 2025. 

HB 1656 would increase state funding for special education by creating three different “categories” of special education services, depending on the percentage of the day in which a student receives services. The amount ranges from $2,642 for each student who receives services “inside regular class 80% or more of the day”; to $7,927 for each student who receives special education services in separate schools, residential facilities, or homebound/hospital placements. In 2025 and beyond, HB 1656 would also increase the base adequacy amount for special education students. 

Lawmakers have been hesitant to comply with the main school funding lawsuit, ConVal vs. New Hampshire, because the State has said that it will be appealing the decision to the State Supreme Court. That decision could take between 18 months and 2 years. 

Upcoming Calendar 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

House Education, Legislative Office Building, Room 206-208

Work Session Starting at 10:00am

  • Full committee work session on SB 378, relative to the performance-based school accountability system task force; SB 526, relative to a public school facility condition assessment and school building aid grants for temperature control.

Executive Session Starting at 1 p.m.

  • Remaining bills from Tuesday
  • SB 378, relative to the performance-based school accountability system task force
  • SB 526, relative to a public school facility condition assessment and school building aid grants for temperature control
  • SB 339, relative to repealing the graduation requirement regarding Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applications

Thursday, April 11, 2024

State Board of Education Public Hearing for ED 306

Meeting starts at 10:00 a.m.; hearing starts at 1:00 pm

House Session

Starting at 10:00 am 

  • HB 1212-FN-LOCAL, relative to eligibility for free school meals
  • HB 1570-FN-A-LOCAL, (New Title) requiring the department of education to conduct a facility assessment of public schools and public chartered schools.
  • HB 1583-FN-A, relative to the per pupil cost of an opportunity for an adequate education.
  • HB 1588-FN, relative to court jurisdiction over persons receiving special education. 
  • HB 1656-FN-LOCAL, (New Title) relative to adequate education grant amounts for pupils receiving special education services.

Monday April 15, 2024

Education Freedom Savings Account Oversight Committee, State House, Room 103

Meeting Starting at 10 am