Legislative Update: State Board receives sharp criticism of proposed minimum standards overhaul, school voucher day this Tuesday, and House passes pair of school funding bills

Photo by jiawangkun, New Hampshire State House.

Last Thursday was the halfway point of the legislative session, also known as “crossover day,” when all of the active House bills move to the Senate and vice versa. It’s also an excellent time to reflect on where we are in the 2024 legislative session. Here are six bills we are keeping tabs on:

  • Two school voucher bills (HB 1665 and SB 442) that would expand eligibility for the state’s school voucher program. The session started with more than 5 expansion proposals, including several that would create universal programs, but those failed (or were tabled) earlier in the session. Both bills have public hearings on Tuesday, April 16. 
  • Two school funding bills (HB 1583 and HB 1656) that would increase state funding for public schools by about $80 million combined. The House passed both bills yesterday, so now they’ll go to the Senate for consideration. 
  • Two teacher certification bills (HB 1298 and SB 374) that would allow uncertified individuals to teach in public schools. The Senate’s is less restrictive, but both would waive certification requirements for teachers if they teach part-time in a public school. 

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.

Sharp criticism at hearings on Minimum Standards for Public School Approval proposal 

On Thursday, April 11, the New Hampshire State Board of Education wrapped up its final of two public hearings on the proposed overhaul of the Minimum Standards for Public School Approval, also known as the ED 306 rules. For the past two weeks, the State Board of Education and NH Department of Education have faced sharp criticism for the proposal that was released in February. 

“We as a Board have expressed our concerns several times via letters, listening sessions, and in-person. The proposed 306 revisions threaten to undermine the education all our students deserve. To begin with, the State Board of Education has ignored our concerns and those of hundreds of constituents who have also participated in listening sessions across the state,” Manchester BOSC member Sean Parr said in his testimony opposing the proposal. 

The minimum standards “are not political playgrounds to advance party agendas, regardless of what party that is,” Superintendent Rob Malay warned the State Board at the public hearing. “Unfortunately, the process that was used to produce what was submitted to you has exacerbated high levels of mistrust from within our education system toward our state leadership. You don’t have to take my word on that, just listen to what is being said publicly.  Better yet, ask the almost 91% of the nearly 350 respondents that confirmed they DO NOT support the revisions that were submitted to you in February.”

A parent from the Croydon district, Chris Prost, warned that the NHED’s proposed overhaul could lead to school closures. In March 2022, following a firestorm where the Croydon school budget was cut by over 50%, and the district was faced with having to shut down its only public school, it was the minimum standards that the town’s counsel cited in order to preserve the school. 

Lawmakers are also raising significant concerns: in an education subcommittee meeting last week, House Education members spent an hour and a half going through the proposal and requesting more information from officials at the NH Department of Education. 

“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 the meeting. 

Representative Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill) also raised concerns, especially around competency-based education, outdated standards, and overstepping on local control — especially in curriculum decisions. The majority of New Hampshire’s academic learning standards have expired, which Ladd flagged as a major concern when the NHED’s overhaul centers the standards: “The competencies should be based on the academic standards, Ladd said, but where are the standards? ‘I could argue they don’t exist,’ he said,” according to InDepth NH. 

The State Board of Education is accepting written testimony until April 30, which can be sent to Julie Shea at julie.r.shea@doe.nh.gov. The State Board is expected to discuss the public comment and next steps at their meeting on Thursday, May 9. 

Watch RHNH Executive Director Nicole Heimarck discuss the NHED’s proposed overhaul in “The State We’re In,” a PBS program: https://www.pbs.org/video/educational-standards-m82hqv/  

Watch the April 11 public hearing here: Minimum Standards for Public School ED 306 Public Hearing, April 11, 2024

School voucher day on Tuesday

On Tuesday, the House Education Committee will hold a public hearing on SB 442, expanding eligibility for school vouchers to about half of New Hampshire students. Our estimates show that if all eligible students participated, it could cost the state about $53 million per year, and given the sharp increase in enrollment, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. 

The hearing for SB 442 is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, April 16, in House Education.

The Senate is also holding a public hearing on school voucher expansion on Tuesday. HB 1665 would expand eligibility to about two-thirds of New Hampshire students at an estimated cost of about $66 million annually

The hearing for HB 1665 is scheduled for 9:20 a.m. Tuesday, April 16, in Senate Education.

Special interest groups have been lobbying hard for voucher expansion in the past few weeks: Koch-funded groups like Yes. Every Kid., Americans for Prosperity, EdChoice, and ExcelinEd in Action are pressuring Senators to pass the House’s version of the bill. 

But there are other forces in New Hampshire that could make it difficult to justify the expansion: state revenues are falling short of expectations, and the state is reckoning with a court decision that ruled that the state is underfunding its public schools by over $500 million per year, and must pass legislation to fully fund its obligation. 

There are also significant concerns about the program itself: a state audit of the program is in limbo after state auditors have said that they are unable to get the data they need from the NH Department of Education. And, lawmakers killed a bill that would create the guardrails and accountability that are necessary according to a legislative oversight committee, which met on Monday. Senator Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) joins as its newest member, kicking off her first meeting with a slate of questions for the NH Department of Education and the Children’s Scholarship Fund, including critical reporting and procedural inquiries. The committee is expected to receive more data and information at their next meeting, tentatively scheduled for June. Watch the oversight meeting here: EFA Oversight Committee, April 15, 2024 

House passes school funding bills 

Last Thursday, the House approved two school funding bills that would, together, provide about $80 million in additional state funds for public schools. HB 1583 would reinstate two targeted aid programs for school districts based on town property valuation and the percentage of students who qualify for school meals. HB 1656 would increase state funding for special education students.

Rep. Tracy Emerick (R-Hampton) tried to table HB 1583 after his amendment failed earlier this month. His amendment would significantly increase state funding but impose a restrictive spending cap on local school budgets. 

Both bills now go to the Senate for consideration. 

School meal expansion fails 

Last Thursday, House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) cast the tie-breaking vote to table HB 1212, which would have expanded eligibility for free school meals. The bill would have increased the income threshold to 350% of the federal poverty guideline, which is the income limit for participation in the state’s school voucher program. According to NH Department of Education estimates, it would have fed about 37,000 students. 

“New Hampshire is a wealthy state,” said Rep. Mary Heath, D-Manchester, “feeding hungry children should be a priority for the New Hampshire House.”

The family of the late Art Ellison, a state rep who championed the cause in his time in the House, watched the vote in the gallery. (Read a tribute to Art here: Art Ellison Reminds Us: ‘Feed the Damn Kids’)

State Board of Education welcomes new member

Last week, the Executive Council confirmed Rajesh M. Nair, of Nashua, to the State Board of Education. He will replace Ryan Terrell, who moved out of his Nashua residence during his term. Nair is an entrepreneur and is the owner of EnCube Labs, a company that produces applied STEM modules for schools, one of which is an approved Learn Everywhere course. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Senate Education, Legislative Office Building, Room 101

Regular Meeting Starting at 9:00 am

  • 9:00 AM HB546 relative to the school building aid program.
  • 9:10 AM HB1579 relative to the merging of school administrative units.
  • 9:20 AM HB1665 relative to student eligibility for the education freedom accounts program.
  • 9:30 AM HB1552 relative to the duties and responsibilities of superintendents of school administrative units.
  • 9:40 AM HB147 relative to membership of the advisory committee on educating students with disabilities.

House Education, Legislative Office Building Room 205-207

Hearing Starting at 9:30 am

  • 9:30 AM SB219(New Title) requiring mandatory reporting by school districts of school expenses.
  • 10:15 AM SB379 relative to emergency action plans for sports related injuries
  • 11:00 AM SB442 (New Title) relative to student eligibility for education freedom accounts and the scholarship organization’s costs of administering the program, extending phase-out grants for education freedom accounts, and revising the definitions of average daily membership in attendance and average daily membership in residence. 

House Education, Legislative Office Building Room 205-207

Meeting Starting at 1:00 p.m.

  • 1:00 PM SB378 relative to the performance-based school accountability system task force.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Senate Session

Starting at 10:00 am