This year was again a mixed-bag. Victories can be passing good bills into law, but as equally important, they can be defeating the bad ones. We had a couple important bills that were vetoed by the Governor, a few tough and surprising wins, and we defeated the worst that threatened school choice. Unfortunately there were a few important bills that we should have won, but lost in committee.
This session, like last year, reinforced the benefits of grassroots engagement. Each year more and more concerned citizens and parents get involved — this has a huge impact particularly in committees. Legislators should be responsive to their constituents; the good ones welcome it, and it can be very powerful against union and other lobbying organizations that might otherwise sway them. This underscores the importance of electing strong school-choice legislators as it has a major effect on the entire biennium.
Below are highlights from the 2016 session. In the coming weeks we will share more detailed lists of all our legislative wins and losses, plus a Legislators Report Card which will provide valuable information for the upcoming elections.
WIN ***HB 1192, repealing the education tax credit
We defeated yet another attempt to repeal the successful tax-credit scholarship program in a House roll call vote. (A Yea vote means they supported killing the bill.) There are legislators who think private donations belong to the state. Just as donations to private organizations like the Red Cross or St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital are charitable donations, so are gifts to the Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire (formerly the Network for Educational Opportunity). It is just as absurd to argue that someone’s income belongs to the state before he/she pays taxes. This young scholarship program helps needy New Hampshire families afford tuition at out-of-district public and private schools, and covers many homeschooling expenses. Wealthy families already have choice; this program puts those educational options — funded with private donations — within reach for underprivileged NH children. For more information, read What Do They Have Against Needy Students? based on the 2015 repeal attempt.
LOSS ***HB 1338, relative to student exemption from the statewide assessment
This bill was a fight from the very beginning with a close House Education Committee recommendation and a roll call vote in the House. Once again usually steady supporters in the Senate Education Committee voted against it in committee. This bill was in response to increasing demand from parents to refuse their children’s participation in mandatory testing, including the statewide assessments that are aligned with College and Career Readiness Standards (aka Common Core). This bill acknowledged parents’ rights to direct their children’s education. This bill addressed documented problems of students being harassed and punished for non-participation. For more information, read Senate Gives Parents’ Rights Bill a Chilly Welcome and Districts are Bullies and HB 1338, Respecting Parents’ Rights.
LOSS ***HB 1371, establishing a committee to study education savings accounts for families of special needs students
This was a very unfortunate situation. Due to a clerical error with an effective date beyond the biennium, this bill could not pass even if legislators supported Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and the premise of the bill. We expect to see it reintroduced soon as there was initial support before the error was identified. Currently there are five states that offer Education Savings Account programs — Arizona (2011), Florida (2014), Mississippi, Tennessee and Nevada (new in 2015). The two more established programs have been immensely successful. These programs can especially benefit low-income families who face the greatest challenges financing their children’s educational needs. The AZ program is funded via a state voucher, and the FL program is funded through a tax-credit program, so they provide good sources of information. These programs, even the one in AZ, has passed constitutional challenges. For more information on ESAs, read Education Savings Accounts: Giving Parents a Choice by Foundation for Excellence in Education; How to Fund Education Savings Accounts with Tax Credits by Education Next, January 20, 2016; and As Population of Low-Income and Special-Needs Students Grows, So Do School-Choice Innovations, January 30, 2016.
WIN ***HB 1456, relative to chartered public school boards
This was another outrageous bill against charter schools. It would have empowered the Governor, with approval of the Executive Council, to appoint members to the board of trustees of all NH chartered public schools. Not only would it hyper-politicize public schools, it was a way for the executive branch to remove parents and taxpayers from the governance of their children’s schools. It would be no more appropriate for the Governor to appoint members to the boards of local K-12 public schools. Fortunately the House Education Committee thought the sponsor’s arguments were weak and gave it an unanimous Inexpedient to Legislate recommendation that easily defeated the bill.
LOSS ***HB 1637, relative to school attendance in towns with no public schools
This was one of the most critical bills of the year and showed the broad support for school choice across the state and in our legislature. The bill was often referred to as the “School Choice for Small Towns” bill. It was also called the “Croydon bill” although it impacted more than a dozen small districts across the state that do not provide full K-12 programs in their districts. Although current statutes allow public districts to contract with other public and private schools in tuition agreements, HB 1637 would have clarified language to support these arrangements. Support for this bill was heavy along party lines, both in the Senate and the House, so it was no surprise when the Governor vetoed it. For more information, read Governor Vetoes School Choice and New Hope for HB 1637. The state DOE vs the Croydon School Board lawsuit is still pending in NH Superior Court.
LOSS ***SB 320, relative to non-academic surveys
Governor Hassan vetoed this much-needed student privacy bill that was the result of 2015’s HB 206 bi-partisan study committee. The committee received evidence that many non-academic surveys include personal questions, and contrary to current law, students are sometimes required to share this information in class when it is not optional nor anonymous. The final version of the bill reached a compromise: most questionnaires would require active parental consent (opt in) except for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) from the federal Center for Disease Control. School officials and representatives of many social programs argued that student privacy was a necessary loss in order to get higher participation rates and secure funding. The ends do not justify the means. Although some students may benefit from the social programs, it does not justify ignoring privacy concerns and parents’ rights to direct their under-aged children’s education. SB 320 was divided along party lines in the Senate, but had more wide-spread support in the House in roll call votes. For more information, read Protect Privacy and Parents’ Rights and Non-Academic Surveys and Parents’ Rights.
WIN ***SB 503-FN-A, relative to pre-kindergarten education using “pay for success” financing
There were several heavy-hitters from the Senate and House as sponsors of this horrible bill, so it was a surprise win. It was similar to SB 69 (2015), but took it a major step further. Instead of a study committee like last year, the 2016 bill would have created a commission to implement a public preschool program funded through “pay for success” or social impact bonds (SIBs). These “pay for success” experiments are still unproven to justify a launch in New Hampshire. The bill’s original fiscal note was for $10M to support a grade level outside compulsory attendance. NH has many other important commitments to our public education system than to support an optional and experimental program. To complicate the proposal even more, these early childhood programs do not produce long-term gains for our youngest learners. For more information, read Noble Goals Funded with Public-Private Partnerships — What Could Go Wrong?. Also read Noble Goals of Pre-K Programs Fail to Deliver and Testimony for SB 69 that reference the 2015 bill, but still apply to the latest one. For more information on social impact bonds, read Are Governments “Paying for Failure” With Social Impact Bonds” by Governing, August 2015.
WIN **HB 1120, relative to teacher qualifications at charter schools
We successfully defeated this egregious bill in a House roll call vote. (A Yea vote opposed the bill.) Current statute requires charter schools to have a minimum of 50% of their teaching staff with teacher credentials. Note that NH private schools have no requirement at all. There is more to making a “good teacher” than his or her certifications. There is an art to being a great teacher and connecting with students. Many teachers at charter schools were certified but have not renewed their credentials. Does this change their skills, experiences, and knowledge that they bring to their students? Teacher credentials alone are not correlated with student performance. This bill is about employment and union protection, not the quality of education or serving students. For more information, read Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: Making the Most of Recent Research, March 2008 and Educational Leadership: Research Says…Good Teachers May Not Fit the Mold, December 2010-January 2011 by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).
LOSS **HB 1231, relative to school district policy regarding objectionable course material
This was one of the bigger disappointments of the year. This was another occasion when our usual Senate allies were unreliable. Because we did not have support from the Senate Education Committee, it was defeated in the Senate. The Senate tied in the first vote (Nay supported the bill), but it was ultimately Laid on the Table. It is considered a “soft kill” but the effect is the same. As often mentioned, committee recommendations make a major difference in the success or failure of a bill, and this is a prime example. The bill as introduced was the same as HB 332 (2015) that passed both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by the governor. It addressed a gap in RSA 186:11 IX-c by requiring parents be given two weeks advanced notice and access to classroom materials for subjects pertaining to human sexuality. While this statute can be used for any subject, it does not address the loop hole that parents must first be aware of what material is being used and when. The bill allowed parents to make informed decisions regarding their children’s education. At the House Education Committee’s public hearing, the prime sponsor introduced a friendly amendment to address the concerns brought up with SB 369 with respect to drug and alcohol awareness instruction. For more information, read Parents’ Rights Vetoed by Governor Hassan about the 2015 bill.
WIN **HB 1351, relative to the laws governing chartered public schools
This was another strong-armed attempt to radically alter NH’s charter schools and stifle them. Chartered public schools are designed to be centers of innovation and flexibility regarding methods and processes to meet the educational needs of students not sufficiently served in traditional public schools. This is the very foundation of charter school options. Fortunately the House Education Committee understood the core issue and unanimously recommended to kill the bill.
WIN **HB 1563-FN-LOCAL, relative to funding for full-day kindergarten pupils
This was an unlikely win as we had to flip the House Education Committee’s Ought to Pass recommendation in a House roll call vote. (A Yea vote was to kill the bill.) Kindergarten is not included in compulsory school attendance (RSA 193:1), and is therefore optional to families. Our public school system has many needs, such as catastrophic and building aid, that are not sufficiently addressed and should have higher priority than funding an optional program. Many communities already offer full-day kindergarten. If this bill passed, it would have discouraged those that offer half-day programs. Additionally, the benefits of full-day vs half-day Kindergarten program are short-lived at best.
LOSS **SB 354, requiring the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the department of education to be confirmed by a joint session of the general court
Currently the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Department of Education are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Executive Council, and serve four-years terms. The bill would have changed this to nominations that are confirmed by a simple majority vote of both the NH Senate and House. This bill made both offices more representative of, and therefore more accountable to the general electorate and not just political appointments of the executive branch. Unfortunately the Senate Rules, Enrolled Bills and Internal Affairs Committee wanted to essentially ignore this bill, so they recommended Interim Study which is a “soft kill”. As expected, the Senate followed their recommendation.
LOSS **SB 355, requiring the members of the state board of education to be elected by a joint session of the general court
Currently positions to the state Board of Education are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Executive Council. This has been a highly politicized position in recent years, particularly in 2014 when the controversial activist Bill Duncan was appointed despite overwhelming appeals to the Executive Council. This bill would have changed the position to one elected by the general court, thereby making the members more accountable to NH citizens. For more information, read Recent BOE Appointment Still Playing Activist, BOE Activist Pressured into Editing His Remarks, and A New Group with an Old Agenda. The state BOE can have significant influence on school choice as it did with the March 2016 vote on a proposed Windham charter school. Like SB 354, this bill was also quietly killed by the Senate.