It has been a very good year for educational options in New Hampshire! Every year we set more ambitious goals and advance on nearly every effort. As always, our strong grassroots community of families, community leaders, and concerned citizens make all the difference.
Each year we see more concerned residents get involved — this has a huge impact particularly in committees where bills are won or lost. Elected officials should be responsive to their constituents; the good ones welcome it. This underscores the importance of electing strong school-choice officials at all levels of government as it has a major effect on many areas impacting our children’s education and futures.
This article features our legislative highlights and includes bills that will not be in our 2018 Report Card because they did not have roll-call votes. We covered additional bills this year; search on 2018 legislation to read more.
As it pertains to legislative outcomes, most roll-call votes were divided along party lines. Therefore, the handful of roll-call votes were strongly supported by Republicans, with Democrats against with notable exceptions on both sides of the aisle. On a national basis, the forefront of school choice is often politically polarized, although not among constituents. In a January 2018 poll, 63% of likely voters support educational opportunities. Many Democratic voters support school choice and are working to depoliticize the issue. Families concentrate on their children and want the best for them; political affiliation is irrelevant in this context.
Read 2018 Highlights Part 1 that features our broader community successes. We will soon publish our 2018 Report Card on legislators’ roll-call votes. And new this year, we are surveying all non-incumbent candidates and will share their grades in the coming several weeks.
This homeschool regulation bill was soundly defeated in a voice vote in the House; it never made it to the Senate. It sought to reinstate the pre-2012 annual year-end assessment reporting requirements to families’ local SAU superintendent, a private school that serves as their Participating Agency, or the state Department of Education. It also would have restored the Participating Agency’s authority to place a home education program on probation if a child does not meet the performance standards — a composite score at or above the 40th percentile on a standardized test or “progress commensurate with age and ability” on a teacher evaluation. If a child did not meet these expectations a second consecutive year, the program is automatically terminated and the child must enroll in a public, charter, or private school the following school year. This is a much higher standard and severe consequence than our public schools face. It presumed homeschoolers “guilty until proven innocent” which is counter to our values as a society. Although 700 homeschool supporters appeared at the public hearing to oppose HB 1263, there was considerable pressure to pass this unnecessary bill. The prime sponsor, Rep. Theberge, published his testimony in the Berlin Sun, reiterating his claim of homeschoolers “falling through the cracks” without any evidence. Rep. Theberge indicated the bill was filed at the request of the Berlin superintendent. At the public hearing many homeschool families pointed out the Berlin district’s dismal scores that fall short of the standards they would impose on all homeschoolers. There is more information and background on the bill available here, here, and here.
This new law builds on the existing tax-credit education program. It allows individuals as well as businesses to declare donations against their interest and dividends taxes and allows them to qualify for a federal charitable tax donation. It had a roll-call vote in the House, passing 168 to 147, almost entirely along party lines. It also had three roll-calls in the Senate; one coming out of the Ways and Means committee, one when an unfriendly amendment was put forward on the Senate floor, and a final one after the Senate Finance Committee. Each time the votes were strongly along party lines. The first roll call was a 13 to 10 vote; the second one, on the amendment, was 10 to 14, and the final vote was 14 to 10. This bill was signed by Governor Sununu and went into effect July 1, 2018.
This law had three rounds before: HB 276 (2017) that died in the Senate, as well as HB 1338 (2016) and HB 603 (2015) that were vetoed by Gov. Hassan. It had a friendly amendment in the House and passed on a voice vote. It passed the Senate in a 14 to 10 roll-call vote along party lines and was signed by Governor Sununu, going into effect on July 24, 2018. This new law breaks the stranglehold on our students and teachers. It 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 families believe them to be a waste of valuable instructional time. This bill addresses documented instances of NH students being harassed and punished for non-participation. The law 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. Unions also oppose using them to evaluate teachers. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes refusals if state law allows them; this law does exactly that. Again, accountability should be to families, not politicians. This law empowers parents to direct their children’s education within the public-school system. Also diminishing the hyper-testing mechanisms of Common Core encourages educational options and variety. Read more at Win for Directing Children’s Education and Children are More Than Test Scores.
This new law is another expansion to the established tax-credit education program. It specifically includes entering kindergarteners and first graders as eligible students and allows fundraising to go year-round instead of ending December 31. It also makes changes consistent with other NH tax credit programs that allow for contributions to be carried forward to the next program year. This allows businesses to include donations in their budgeting plans. Nearly all bills with fiscal notes go to two committees in both chambers; one to address the policy and a second to address the financial issues. This law had a roll call, passing 303 to 42 in the House after going through the Education Committee. It was amended in House Ways and Means, and passed in a voice vote. In the Senate it went directly to Ways and Means where it was again amended and ultimately passed in another voice vote. This new law was also signed by Governor Sununu and went into effect on July 1, 2018.
While the bill was narrowly defeated in the final House votes, it progressed much farther than most people expected. We consider this a significant advancement for educational options although not a win. The bill originally passed the Senate in February 2017 after going through Senate Education in a 13 to 10 roll call vote. Because it had a fiscal note, it went to Senate Finance, after which it again had a roll-call vote, passing 14 to 9 along party lines. From there it moved to House Education where the committee retained it for additional consideration. In mid-November the subcommittee put forward an amendment that narrowly passed the committee to advance to the full House for an early January 2018 vote, passing 184 to 162 in a roll call after a few floor amendments failed. It spent the rest of the 2018 legislative session in House Finance with multiple subcommittee meetings. Throughout the process, numerous amendments were considered, especially regarding eligibility and funding calculations. When it was finally presented to the entire House in early May, there were three votes, all roll-calls. The first was to table the bill which failed 15 to 314, which is a way to kill the bill. A motion to send the bill to Interim Study, another way to kill the bill, passed 170 to 159, and a motion to reconsider the bill, which would give it another chance, failed 165 to 172. All three votes were mostly along party lines with a handful of exceptions that are critical in evaluating legislators’ positions on educational options. There was another chance for this year’s ESA bill. The senate is able to add non-germane amendments to bills and tacked on the original SB 193 language (as passed in 2017) along with language from another bill regarding school employee death benefits, to HB 1636, a bill about charter schools re access to federal funding, in an effort to send it a Committee of Conference. The amendment for the ESA language was a roll-call vote in the senate, passing 14 to 10 along party lines, sending HB 1636 as amended back to the House. The vote for a Committee of Conference narrowly failed in a roll call vote 168 to 173 allowing a motion for non-concur to come forward. This was another roll call vote, 180 to 163, killing the entire bill as amended. Look for these votes to weigh heavily in our upcoming Report Card. Learn more about Education Savings Accounts here.
This bill sought to reverse the hard-won active consent (opt in) for non-academic surveys in SB 43 (2017). It would have required passive consent (opt-out) instead of active consent for all non-academic surveys if they are tied to “grants, initiatives, or contracts.” In other words, the bill would sell students’ rights and privacy for additional funding. Active consent as required in the 2017 law is consistent with the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) and carves out an exception for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey created by the CDC, allowing passive consent. This is a school-choice issue because public school students should not be subject to increased risks or privacy violations nor should their families 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 families. The bill came out of the Senate Education Committee with an Inexpedient to Legislate recommendation which prevailed in a roll-call vote, 13 to 11, killing the bill.