We are pleased to publish our second annual Legislator Report Card! Grades are based on this session’s school choice bills with roll call votes. We followed and reported on many more issues and bills throughout the year, but only roll-call votes provide direct accountability of individual Representatives and Senators.
As previously mentioned, 2017 was a very good year for school choice in New Hampshire. However, as it pertains to legislative efforts, most votes were polarized along party lines. Therefore, the handful of roll call votes were strongly supported by Republicans, with Democrats against. School Choice for NH is a non-partisan organization, but as is the case nationally, the forefront of school choice is politically polarized, but not among constituents. Many Democratic voters support school choice and are working toward depoliticizing the issue.
For a fuller view of this year’s school choice results, read 2017 Highlights which includes general victories as well as legislative outcomes.
School-choice votes are not limited to only those that involve where a child may be educated; that is the strictest definition of school choice. It also pertains to the funding mechanisms that empower choice, who has the authority make those decisions, and other issues that impact educational diversity and innovation. School choice also encourages accountability to parents and empowers them to direct their children’s education.
We analyzed, monitored, testified, and published on more than 35 bills in the 2017 legislative session. Of those, six had roll call votes in the House and a different set of six were roll called in the Senate. These votes alone do not provide a complete picture of a legislator’s support or opposition to school choice; the sample size is too small and cannot cover the entire scope in a given year.
Throughout the session we used stars to indicate a bill’s potential impact to school choice. This is applied to roll-call votes to create a weighted score. Three-star bills, the most critical ones, have a 100% value. Two-star bills have a 80% value. One-star bills have a 60% value, and bills without any star – but still significant to our efforts – receive 40% value. Not voting and excused are not penalized, but missing more than 60% of the weighted votes qualifies as an “incomplete.” The Speaker of the House does not receive a grade because he presided over the sessions and did not vote.
The grading scale is based on a traditional academic report card with the letter grade breakdowns as follows: 97% and higher is an A+, 93-96% is an A, 90-92% is an A-, and so on. These finer gradations provide more distinction and clarity between various legislators. Legislators that received a B or higher are generally those that support school choice, empowering parents, accountability to parents, and educational diversity. Those that received a C are unreliable or support only some school choice issues. Obviously those that received a D or lower are opposed to school choice, empowering parents with educational options, and seek to give more authority and control to the state.
School Choice for New Hampshire is an all-volunteer coalition of concerned citizens and leaders that advocates for educational options in the Granite State. We are non-partisan and not affiliated with any political party. We also do not endorse candidates, but hope the Report Card is an informative tool for evaluating legislators and holding them accountable.
The following Representatives served on the House Education Committee:
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The following Senators served on the Senate Education Committee:
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2017 Bills – House Roll Calls
Although the House had several roll calls through the year, only six pertained to school choice issues. Representatives are graded on all six votes on the following bills.
WIN **HB 103, relative to school district policies regarding objectionable course material
This bill took three years to finally get over the finish line; the language was originally vetted as HB 332 (2015) that passed the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Hassan, and as HB 1231 (2016) that passed the House but was tripped up in the Senate. HB 103 won the House in a 203 to 152 roll call vote; the Senate vote was 14 to 9. Thankfully the Governor signed this much-needed bill and it went into effect as of June 16, 2017. This new law addresses 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 the statute can be used for any academic area, it did not address the loop hole that parents must first be aware of what material is being used and when. The law allows parents to make informed decisions regarding their children’s education. It promotes communication between the school, teacher, and parents. Note that the statute does not allow one parent to change the material for the entire class; just their child and at their own expense so it is not censorship. School choice is about bringing educational choices closest to the student for the best fit and this is a choice issue within the public school system. It is an aspect of accountability to parents.
WIN ***HB 129-FN, repealing the education tax credit
This bill is introduced with a different set of sponsors each year, so it begs the question — Why do some legislators want to remove a charitable program that helps low-income children access schools that fit their educational needs? The tax-credit scholarships helped more than 200 low-income children across the state in its first four years of operation. There is documented academic improvement and parent satisfaction. Several other states with Blaine Amendments have ruled tax-credit scholarship programs to be constitutional because monies are distributed to parents who choose the schools and not to the schools directly. Like other charities, the tax-credit scholarship program is funded by private donations, not money from the state. For more information about the scholarship program, read K-12 Scholarships in NH. This bill was defeated in a House 205 to 154 roll call vote. A “yea” vote was to support the committee’s recommendation to kill the bill.
LOSS ***HB 276, relative to student exemption from the statewide assessment
This was one of the few losses this year and is quite unfortunate. It had a roll call in the House, but was defeated in a Senate voice vote largely due to a poor Senate Education Committee recommendation. This bill was vetted twice before; HB 1338 (2016) and HB 603 (2015) that was vetoed by Gov. Hassan. This bill is 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). There are many reasons why parents may wish to have their children not participate in the statewide assessment. Given that these tests have no academic or diagnostic value, many parents believe them to be a waste of valuable instructional time. This bill addresses documented instances of students being harassed and punished for non-participation. The bill is consistent with existing NH DOE policies, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and US Supreme Court rulings. Even the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) acknowledges that parents may refuse their children’s participation in statewide assessments. Unfortunately, federal ESSA only recognizes refusals if state law allows them, so this is a critical bill to reintroduce. Again, accountability should be to parents, not politicians. This bill empowers parents to direct their children’s education within the public school system. Also diminishing the hyper-testing mechanisms of Common Core will encourage educational options and variety. For information about how to refuse your child’s participation in statewide assessments, read Testing Time.
WIN ***HB 297-FN, repealing the education tax credit program
This is another bill by Rep. Timothy Horrigan and nearly identical to the other repeal bill, HB 129. The difference between this one and HB 129 (2017) is that the former would be effective immediately whereas the latter would take effect 60 days after passage. The tax-credit scholarships helped more than 200 low-income children across the state in its first four years of operation. There is documented academic improvement and parent satisfaction. Several other states with Blaine Amendments have ruled tax-credit scholarship programs to be constitutional because monies are distributed to parents who choose the schools and not to the schools directly. Like other charities, the tax-credit scholarship program is funded by private donations, not money from the state. For more information about the scholarship program, read K-12 Scholarships in NH. This bill was defeated in a House 206 to 157 roll call vote; again, nearly identical to HB 129’s outcome. A “yea” vote was to support the committee’s recommendation to kill the bill.
PENDING ***HB 647, establishing education freedom savings accounts for children with disabilities
The House of Representatives supported this new initiative in a 184-166 partisan roll call vote although it was ultimately Laid on the Table, a way to suspend the bill. Nonetheless, it was a net positive for school choice because it builds momentum for future advances. This was the first time Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) were proposed in NH and it can take time for legislators to become familiar and comfortable with new ideas. ESAs are funds to a designated account for specified educational purposes. This particular ESA is limited to students with disabilities – children with IEPs or 504 plans. While they are new to New Hampshire, they are not new to other states. Currently five states offer ESA programs and each is unique with respect to the approved uses, eligibility qualifications, administration, accountability mechanisms, and funding sources. The two established programs in Arizona and Florida have been immensely successful. They put an expanded range of educational services and options within reach, particularly for low-income families who face the greatest challenges financing their children’s educational needs. ESAs have withstood constitutional challenges. Financial experts testified that the state and districts would have significant savings – a net positive impact of $59.7 million – if NH implements an ESA program. Empirical evidence shows that school choice programs save money. For more info on the evidence of school choice programs, read A Win-Win Solution by EdChoice. More ESA articles are available here.
WIN ***SB 8-FN, relative to school attendance in towns with no public schools
This is one of the big victories of the year! This new law which passed the Senate in a 14 to 9 roll call vote and the House in a 210 to 147 roll call decision goes into effect as of August 28th. It clarifies statute regarding local school boards’ authority to contract with public and non-sectarian private schools for those grades Kindergarten through 12th that are not available in-district. It is fully consistent with decades-old practices across the state. This bill, like HB 1637 (2016), was commonly called the “Croydon bill” although it is not limited to one community; it will impact roughly 50 small towns across the state. School tuition programs put educational options within reach for children that would otherwise not have them available. Particularly in more rural areas of our state, there are few alternatives to local public schools; making private schools available is a critical option for these children. Just as school tuition programs expand choice for families, they provide fiscally responsible options for school boards. Given statewide student population declines and rising education costs, these programs allow local school boards more flexibility to provide education at lower rates. Read more at Governor Signs Town Tuitioning. This new law is also expected to strengthen Croydon’s legal appeal to the NH Supreme Court. More details about Croydon’s school choice program and legal battle are available in this article.
2017 Bills – Senate Roll Calls
We had more Senate roll call votes this year although it is still a small sample size making it difficult to fully assess Senators’ support or opposition of school choice issues. A more complete perspective will be possible in subsequent years as a history is developed. Despite this challenge, the senate’s six roll calls are insightful. Two bills were roll-called in both the House and Senate, HB 103 and SB 8, and are listed above. The other four roll-called bills are listed below. The Senate had two roll calls on SB 193, the universal Education Savings Account (ESA) bill; first as a policy and second as a fiscal issue. Each vote is worth half so this bill is not weighed more than the others. Senators are graded on seven votes on six bills.
WIN HB 386-FN, relative to technical corrections to the education tax credit statute
Although this new law makes clear and modest technical changes to the tax credit statutes, they significantly impact the existing program. The new law removes certain restrictions on carrying forward contributions, expands the period for businesses to submit qualifying donations and tax-credit applications, and broadens the approved uses to include distance learning programs, tutors, and dual-enrollment classes. It passed the House in a voice vote, and passed the Senate in a more bipartisan vote, 17 to 6. The law went into effect as of August 1st.
WIN *SB 43, relative to non-academic surveys administered by a public school to its students
This new law was fiercely contested along partisan lines, including a 13 to 10 Senate roll call vote, but was ultimately signed by Governor Sununu and will go into effect September 16th. The law requires active consent (opt-in) prior to non-academic surveys, with the exception of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey created by the CDC which will allow passive consent (opt-out). The new law is consistent with the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). This is a school choice issue public school students should not be subject to increased risks or privacy violations nor should their parents forfeit their rights to direct their children’s education simply because children attend their zip code assigned schools. It is also one aspect of accountability to parents.
WIN *SB 44, prohibiting the state from requiring implementation of common core standards
This bill took three years to cross the finish line; as introduced, it was identical to SB 101 (2015) that passed the House and Senate only to be vetoed by Gov. Hassan. SB 44 had a partisan Senate roll call vote of 14 to 9. This new law, which goes into effect as of September 16th, strongly declares that the state Department of Education nor the state Board of Education can require local districts to adopt Common Core State Standards or any derivative of these standards. It also expressly gives local school boards the authority to determine, approve, and implement alternative academic standards. The amendment also requires the state BOE to have all new academic standards reviewed and approved by the legislative oversight committee established in RSA 193-C:7. This bill strengthens existing statute that gives local districts autonomy regarding academic standards. While a positive step, the bill does not impact statewide testing which drives standards and curriculum choices.
PENDING ***SB 193-FN, establishing education freedom savings accounts for students
Like HB 647, the other ESA bill, this one moved the school choice discussion forward by leaps and bounds. This Education Savings Account bill passed the Senate as a policy in a 13 to 10 vote and again later as a fiscal issue in a 14 to 9 roll call vote. Ultimately the bill was retained in the House Education Committee, keeping it alive for the following legislative session. Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) are funds that children receive to a designated account that are used for specified educational purposes. This bill has few restrictions regarding eligibility and is considered a “universal” ESA and enrollment is optional. While ESAs are new to New Hampshire, they are not new to other states. Currently five states offer ESA programs and each is unique with respect to the approved uses, eligibility qualifications, administration, accountability mechanisms, and funding sources. The two established programs in Arizona and Florida have been immensely successful. They put an expanded range of educational services and options within reach, particularly for low-income families who face the greatest challenges financing their children’s educational needs. ESAs have withstood constitutional challenges. Financial experts testified that the state and districts would have significant savings – a net positive impact of $59.7 million – if NH implements an ESA program. Empirical evidence shows that school choice programs save money. For more info on the evidence of school choice programs, read A Win-Win Solution by EdChoice. More ESA articles are available here.