Children have one chance at an education that fits their needs, and accessing a “right fit” education can make all the difference. This is why we are committed to empowering families with educational opportunities. As part of this effort, we create and share information and resources that support access to these options. We also monitor and report on legislation that may expand or limit learning alternatives.
In our 2019 Highlights Part 1 article, we featured the community activity of the past 12 months. We are proud of the work we’ve done: hosted a special presentation with an accomplished author and national school-choice expert; created an expanded FAQ and interactive map that shows educational options across the state; conducted more informational seminars for prospective and new homeschooling families, and much more.
Legislation is a key area that can expand or restrict educational options in our state, so we make an effort to share information throughout the session. Each year we see more concerned residents get involved. 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 2019 Report Card as only roll-call votes are scored. We covered additional bills this year; search our website on 2019 legislation to read more. Our 2018, 2017, and 2016 Report Cards are at these links.
2019 was a difficult year for school choice and we were mostly on defense, protecting educational options in New Hampshire. The legislature filed a few dozen bills that posed further restrictions to educational opportunities, and the ones that would benefit children faced stiff opposition.
By far the most egregious bills were House Bill 632 and Senate Bill 318 that would destroy the Education Tax Credit scholarship program. To date the ETC program benefits over 800 low-income students across the Granite State since its inception in 2013. This small, but impactful program is still in jeopardy because both bills were tabled in the NH House and Senate, respectively. This means that any time prior to the 2020 session, the chambers may hold sessions and take the bills “off the table” and vote on them. The ETC scholarship program is not out of danger yet; we remain vigilant.
Bills that support chronically bullied children were introduced, but killed in the legislature this year. Another effort to support these victimized students through the Manifest Educational Hardship (MEH) statute was brought forward in House Bill 489, but hit a dead-end in the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee. Another bill, House Bill 414, was introduced with bi-partisan support to require distribution of monthly reports of confirmed bullying incidents to local school boards, but it is retained in the House Education Committee for next year.
There were also multiple attacks on our chartered public schools. One bill, House Bill 711, sought to cut charter funding in half!
Finally, two harmful bills advanced to the Governor’s desk, but thankfully, he vetoed them. The first one is Senate Bill 140, a bill that sought to terminate the yet-to-launch Learn Everywhere program. It is an innovative program for high-school students, recognizing that learning is not confined to the four walls of a classroom and traditional school hours. Read more about it in Pushing Families Out of Public Schools. Governor Sununu also vetoed Senate Bill 196 that would reverse a new law (from 2017) that requires active consent (opt-in) for non-academic surveys. The legislature has the opportunity to overturn these vetoes on September 18th and 19th when they will vote on all vetoed bills.
HB 222, relative to criteria for teachers in charter schools.
Outcome – Inexpedient to Legislation in the House
This is another returning bill against charter schools with Rep. Timothy Horrigan as prime sponsor. The first time around it was HB 1120 (2016) and again appeared as HB 148 (2017). Current statute requires charter schools to have a minimum of 50% of their teaching staff with teacher credentials; HB 222 would require 75% hold teacher licenses. Note that NH private schools have no credentialing requirement at all. Teachers are important, but there is more to making a “good teacher” than his or her certifications. Teaching is an art; certification cannot measure the rapport teachers develop with their students or the breadth and depth of knowledge and skill teachers bring to their classrooms. Note that teacher credentials alone are not correlated with student performance. 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).
HB 251, relative to criminal background checks for education personnel.
Outcome – Retained in the House Education Committee, returns in 2020
This bill is similar to last year’s HB 1432 and HB 916 (2008). It seeks to impose redundant requirements on private schools that they must already satisfy, including the federal National Child Protection Act of 1993, regarding background checks. The law already allows nonpublic schools to conduct background checks, per RSA 189:13-a and RSA 189:39-b,I. The statute says that background checks are conducted on employees, prospective employees and certain types of volunteers classified as “designated volunteers,” which is not specified in law. Local School Administrative Units (SAUs), school boards, charter schools, and public academies independently determine the categories of volunteers for background-check purposes, as may nonpublic schools. This is an intrusion in the operation of private organizations and businesses which is a dangerous precedent. Additionally, the bill as introduced is broad and vague, saying that it applies to any school “receiving public funds, directly or indirectly.” In public testimony the prime sponsor, Rep. Linda Tanner, incorrectly stated that this bill would also apply to the Education Tax Credit program that is funded via private donations to a 501c3 non-profit that awards scholarships to low-income children. She also said that recipient families, not only nonpublic schools, would need to comply with criminal background check policies.
HB 269, relative to grounds for denial of a chartered public school application.
Outcome – Inexpedient to Legislate in the House
This is another repeat bill hostile to charter schools. It first was introduced as HB 474 (2015) by Reps. Mary Gile and Timothy Horrigan and again as HB 113 (2017) with the same sponsors. This time around, Rep. Timothy Horrigan is the sole sponsor. This bill would allow the state Board of Education to deny the application of chartered public schools solely for budget reasons; the legislature, not the BOE sets the budget and allocation of state funds. This is a blatant attempt to justify the charter school moratorium from a few years ago and deny additional schools; see The State Board of Ed Overreaches Its Authority. All chartered public schools go through a rigorous process and review by the state Board of Education.
HB 329, relative to review and adoption of school data security plans.
Outcome – Passed the House and Senate, Signed by Governor, effective 8/4/2019
The original bill was replaced with amendment #0017h which changes RSA 91-A, the Right to Know statute, with the ability to exempt sensitive IT systems, security plans, vulnerability testing, and other materials from disclosure. It impacts all public boards and agencies, not just the Department of Education and local school boards. While this is an appropriate addition to the RTK exemption list, the amendment does not address concerns regarding student and faculty information on school district IT systems as done in the original bill. This is important as there are significant security risks for student and faculty information and school districts maintain vast amounts of data. Districts also keep medical records on students which are not protected by HIPAA. Student privacy is a relevant school choice issue because increasingly educational options are driven by technology. Managing this information while respecting privacy issues is part of the challenge as more learning occurs across platforms, utilizing a mix of public, charter, online, private, and home education approaches. Technology-driven education also makes more educational opportunities available for students in low-income households and rural communities. Hopefully these concerns will be addressed in another bill.
HB 375, relative to policies regarding chartered public schools.
Outcome – Inexpedient to Legislate in the House
This bill applies existing local district school statutes to chartered public schools. It includes laws that empower families with the ability to opt-out of health or sex education for religious objections; exemptions for objectionable material at the parents’ expense; refusals of participation in the statewide assessments; authorization of the state Board of Education to review contracts to determine if they promote education, establish qualifications for learning disability teachers, pupil safety and violence prevention programs; and require policies re school resource officers if assigned to the school, computer use policies, and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Several of these provisions extend school-choice issues to public charter schools without interfering with their mission or pedagogy.
HB 383, relative to the prohibition on unlawful discrimination in public and nonpublic schools.
Outcome – Re-referred to the Senate Education Committee
A few weeks ago, the Senate voted to re-refer HB 383 back to the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee, so they may take further consideration and action on this bill. This is important to monitor because the House made significant changes to SB 263, another bill regarding anti-discrimination issues in public schools. (See below for more information on this bill.) As both bills are regarding anti-discrimination, the two chambers may seek to merge them in some way. HB 383 is similar to last year’s HB 1432 and HB 916 (2008), both of which were voted Inexpedient to Legislate. This bill seeks to impose redundant nondiscrimination requirements on private schools that they must already satisfy per federal laws. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and numerous Supreme Court decisions state that no private school may discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin. To do so would jeopardize their IRS non-profit status. Private schools must also follow Title IX of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity’s requirement re nondiscrimination on the basis of gender for hiring practices, unless the institution is religious-affiliated. There are also protections for students with special needs. Per the Americans with Disabilities Act, nonpublic schools must provide “auxiliary aids and services” to children with special needs if they are otherwise qualified for admission or if “minor adjustments” allows the student to participate in the private school’s program. The ADA already is applicable to private schools if they receive public funds. Religious schools are exempt from these ADA laws unless they receive federal dollars. Currently many private schools receive federal funds, particularly Title 1 money. Also, it would set a dangerous precedent for undue regulation of nonpublic schools. This is a school-choice issue because it is important to keep private schools separate and distinct from public schools. Education is not one-size-fits-all, and turning private schools into copies of public schools defeats that purpose. Nonpublic schools are already accountable to the public — the families that enroll their children in their institutions as well as government agencies.
HB 414, relative to notifying parents of bullying incidents.
Outcome – Retained in the House Education Committee, returns in 2020
This extends the reporting of substantiated incidents of bullying or cyber-bullying from superintendents to the school board or chartered public school board of trustees. This is applicable to school-choice issues because school safety is a common reason families seek educational alternatives.
HB 489, relative to changing a pupil’s school or assignment because of a manifest educational hardship.
Outcome – Passed the House, Inexpedient to Legislate in the Senate
This is the second year that the House introduced a bill regarding Manifest Educational Hardship (MEH). It is important that families have the option to petition their school officials when their children’s assigned schools are not a good fit. Manifest Educational Hardship refers to a documented physical, mental, or emotional condition brought on by the student’s current assigned educational placement and that the condition interferes with the student’s achievement or growth, physical safety, or social and emotional well-being. The condition must be severe, pervasive or persistent to be considered for MEH. We know of many circumstances when there is a poor academic fit – even in otherwise excellent districts – or an on-going bullying problem that challenges the child’s well-being. While the version passed by the NH House did not fully address our concerns, it is greatly disappointing that the Senate Education and Workforce Development failed to support it, or a friendly amendment that was prepared. HB 489 as passed by the House specifies when superintendents must determine and notify families regarding a decision for an MEH request. The amendment prepared for the Senate committee would allow families to petition the state Board of Education if they are dissatisfied with their local school board’s decision, as currently permitted in statute.
HB 569-FN-L, relative to innovation schools.
Outcome – Inexpedient in the House in a roll call vote 200 to 131
HB 569 proposes a way of allowing more flexible use of resources among public schools within a single district or across districts. It allows schools that share common interests or serve similar cohorts of students to work cooperatively in such areas as school staffing, curriculum and assessment, class scheduling, use of financial and other resources, and faculty recruitment, employment, evaluation, and compensation. It may be used to enhance services in special education, gifted and talented resources, programs for students participating in English Language Learners, services for at-risk students, and more. This is a creative idea to enable local district schools to adapt to their communities’ needs and be responsive to budget constraints and declining student enrollment. This bill suggests a way for public schools to have more opportunities to be flexible and innovative to meet these challenges.
HB 632-FN, relative to the education tax credit.
Outcome – Laid on the Table in the House, may return this session
The Education Tax Credit (ETC) scholarship program is facing multiple legislative attacks this term, of which HB 632 is one. This program is the only one of its kind to put educational opportunities within reach for low-income students across the Granite State. The scholarship program began in 2013 and to date has helped 877 children; 413 low-income students utilize scholarships for the 2018-2019 school year. Of those students, 16% are children will special needs. The ETC program allows private donations – not state funds – to be given to a non-profit organization that provides scholarships to low-income children. Scholarships may be used for tuition at out-of-district public schools, private school tuition, or approved home education expenses. Donors receive a credit against their business enterprise or profits tax; individuals receive a credit against their income taxes. As defined in statute, the program can only help low-income students, those at or below 300% of the federal poverty limit. The 2018 guideline for a family of four is a maximum annual income of $75,300. These families also qualify for a range of federal assistance programs including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Of this year’s scholarship children, 62% are at the Free and Reduced income level which is $46,400 annually for a family of four. Poverty is a major contributor to a range of long-term academic problems. According to The Condition of Education (2018) by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), living in poverty has a great impact for the duration of a child’s academic years, from kindergarten through high school. The report says, “…and living in poverty are associated with poor educational outcomes, including low achievement scores, having to repeat a grade, and dropping out of high school.” These private scholarships put educational opportunities within reach for families that they otherwise could not access. Educational opportunities close the academic gap for at-risk students. The average scholarship award is $2,762; it is higher, $4,833.50 for children with special needs. While this small program makes all the difference for struggling students, it does not have a negative financial impact on local or state education funding. In fact, supporting educational opportunities for at-risk children produces positive outcomes for our communities. Forcing these at-risk students back into educational settings that do not fit their individual needs will not only cause long-term harm to their educational outcomes, but will also cost local districts more money as they would now be responsible for integrating over 400 children back into their schools. Per the NH Department of Education, the average cost per pupil is $15,865.26; the cost per pupil with all expenditures is $18,991.10. The ETC is a win-win for students and communities across the Granite State. Repealing the Education Tax Credit program would have a devastating effect on our most vulnerable children and local districts. Read about the House Ways and Means Committee’s exec session here.
HB 711-FN-L, relative to funding an adequate education.
Outcome – Inexpedient to Legislate in the House
A provision in this bill would cut state funding for chartered public schools in half, to only the per student state adequacy funding level. Charter schools already operate on one-third the total funding that other public schools receive. This bill, if enacted, would likely close our charter schools, forcing nearly 4,000 chartered public-school students back into their local public schools, environments that are not the best fit for them, and at a higher cost to taxpayers. Read more in Attack on Chartered Public Schools.
HB 721-FN-L, relative to special education in towns with no public schools.
Outcome – Retained in the House Education Committee, returns in 2020
This is redundant with RSA 189:49 that already authorizes school boards to provide nonpublic schools the following special education services: health and welfare services including speech correction and remedial and diagnostic services; programs for the deaf, blind, emotionally disturbed, children with disabilities; and programs for the improvement of the educational studies of pupils with disabilities. Also, RSA 193:3, commonly referred to as the Manifest Educational Hardship statute, is frequently used by districts to place children with special needs in nonpublic schools, if appropriate for their learning needs. When these students are reassigned by their home district, the special education funds or services follow the child to the new school assignment. This already exists in the statute this bill seeks to alter. There are also existing federal protections for students with special needs. Per the Americans with Disabilities Act, nonpublic schools must provide “auxiliary aids and services” to children with special needs if they are otherwise qualified for admission.
SB 140, relative to credit for alternative, extended learning, and work-based programs.
Outcome – Passed the Senate, Passed the House in a roll call vote 224 to 146, Vetoed by Governor
This repeal is a blatant political power-move against the yet-to-launch Learn Everywhere program enacted in 2018. Learn Everywhere is designed to bring more learning opportunities to public school students, beyond their classroom experiences, and have it count towards graduation credit. This innovative program adheres to the state’s philosophy and statutes, maintains the strong tradition of local control, while allowing greater flexibility for students to pursue interests and potential careers while earning high-school credit. Local school districts may have policies governing how many credits from alternative learning options may be applied towards graduation, so this does not diminish local districts’ control for granting diplomas. The state Board of Education already credentials schools and teachers; this simply allows the BOE to also credential these courses, unbundling learning from bricks and mortar, while expanding the opportunity for an adequate education. Modeled on the existing Charter School authorization program, Learn Everywhere is adapted for individual programs instead of entire schools. It builds on Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) that are available and managed at the local district level. Learn Everywhere allows for these opportunities to extend beyond zip-codes, making more options available for students and simplifying the process for organizations and businesses that wish to participate in multiple areas. Learn Everywhere will not impact school funding because these opportunities already exist. They are simply awarding credit towards graduation for participation. Many of these programs are available for free or reduced fees like those available through the Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA, Civil Air Patrol, other community organizations, and after-school clubs. Typically, alternative learning programs are at the family’s expense, not the district’s. For example, if a student pursues classes at Southern NH University, those programs are available at a discount, but the family is responsible for the tuition, not the local district school. Learn Everywhere is fully consistent with this practice. Increasingly education is moving to “course choice,” not just “school choice.” More and more learning occurs across platforms, with a little here and there. Even now students may take some classes at the local district school, some online, some at home, and some through the local community college. Learn Everywhere recognizes this trend and positions NH as a front-runner in this new frontier for public education. At a time when public-school districts face tight budgets, declining enrollment, and demands for more individualized instruction, New Hampshire’s Learn Everywhere program is a win-win for students, schools, organizations, businesses, and our communities. Read more in Pushing Families Out of Public Schools, Want to Learn Everywhere in NH and Expanding Educational Opportunities.
SB 196, relative to non-academic surveys administered by a public school to its students.
Outcome – Passed the Senate in a roll call vote 13 to 10, Passed the House in a roll call vote 218 to 150, Vetoed by Governor
This bill is nearly identical to SB 431 (2018) and will reverse the hard-won active consent (opt in) for non-academic surveys, SB 43, passed only two years ago. The bill requires passive consent (opt-out) instead of active consent for all non-academic surveys. Nearly all, including the Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the CDC, are tied to government grants and funding based upon participation percentages. In other words, the bill sells students’ rights and private information for additional funding. Active consent as required in current 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. The Senate voted to concur with the NH House version, amendment #1802h, which requires districts to distribute written notice via the student and they may send notice electronically. This makes students responsible for informing their families. It also allows parents to opt-out in writing or electronically. These non-academic surveys are also used to justify the Social-Emotional Learning curriculum and extensive teacher training that is being implemented across the state. This is a school-choice issue because public school students should not be subject to increased intrusiveness or privacy violations, nor should their families forfeit their rights to direct their children’s education simply because children attend their local district schools. It is also one aspect of accountability to families.
SB 267, relative to the release of student assessment information and data.
Outcome – Passed the Senate in a roll call vote 13 to 10, Passed the House in a roll call vote 208 to 133, Law without Governor’s signature, effective 10/12/19
The Committee of Conference report requires the Department of Education to supply students’ names and Unique Pupil Identifiers (UPIs) to testing organizations to maintain the results, scores, and other evaluative materials on every student. The testing entity may give the assessment results and comparative data to the families or the schools as provided in RSA 193-C:11. It gives the testing company vast amounts of our children’s information as the UPI is the key to unlocking all the data. Current law, RSA 189:67, already allows testing entities to access students’ names or UPIs (not both), and birth dates. The UPI is supposed to anonymize student data, to protect identifiable information. Instead, when matched with the student’s name and birth date, everything is accessible. Refusing the statewide assessment, as allowed in RSA 193-C:6, is unlikely to protect students who do not participate in the exam, as the students are included in the database, just noted as non-participants. UPIs follow NH students from the time they enter the public-school system all the way through post-secondary institutions as part of NH’s Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS), also referred to as the NH Longitudinal Data System (NHLDS), for which the state received federal grants exceeding $8M. Homeschool students who attend high-school classes through the local district are included in the database. While the amendment requires the data be destroyed after eight years, this completely undermines the purpose of Unique Pupil Identifiers and privacy protections. The intent of the bill is to allow schools and families to more readily track progress of individual students. However, we believe families are already able to do this by maintaining a file of the scores and reports from year to year. Also, the final version of the bill removes the penalties for inappropriate use of this data which is in the Senate’s version. Learn more about the privacy protections in the current reporting system here in the NH DOE’s FAQ. Read more about the NHLDS here. The NH DOE’s data dictionary is available here to see what information is collected in the state’s various databases. Read more about NH’s database system here.
SB 277, relative to grants to chartered public schools.
Outcome – Laid on the Table in the Senate, may return this session
This bill gives modest incremental increases of state funding to support our chartered public schools over the next couple years. Our charter schools do not receive local tax-dollars and rely on state funds to operate.
SB 318, relative to extending the education tax credit program to include donations to public school programs.
Outcome – Laid on the Table in the Senate, may return this session
This bill adds public-school projects to the Education Tax Credit (ETC) program. We might not be against utilizing state tax credits to fund public-school projects, but it does not fit in the nature, process, or intent of the Education Tax Credit Scholarship law which created the program for individual student tuition scholarships or homeschool scholarships. The Education Tax Credit Scholarship program is a school-choice mechanism in place in 18 states with 800 operating scholarship organizations providing tuition scholarships for low- and moderate-income children. We have two scholarship organizations operating in NH and they have been growing every year to assist low-income students. More scholarship organizations could open at any time and we expect the available tax credits to be fully utilized. The NH ETC program can already offer scholarships to students to attend out-of-district public schools, and through the homeschool scholarship any public or private educational program that charges tuition. This bill is deeply flawed even though the amendment removes the existing ETC program from control by a highly politicized and hostile management commission. As amended, the bill would debilitate the ETC program and reduce the potential number of at-risk children who could utilize the program by 1,000 students. The prime sponsor described the proposed program as functioning like a grant application. This concept would be better added to SB 270 that was signed into law which creates a tax credit for donations to NH’s career and technical education centers and passed with bipartisan support. Read more about this bill in SB 318 Paralyzes ETC Program.