The New Hampshire House of Representatives and Senate will open the 2018 legislative session on January 3rd and 4th by voting on several retained bills from the previous session. This is when all members of each chamber will vote YEA (to support the committee’s recommendation) or NAY (to oppose the recommendation). Although there are dozens, only a few pertain to educational options, including the most critical bill of the year, SB 193, the Education Savings Accounts bill. As always, our analysis and recommendations are below with legislators’ contact information at the end. Please contact your state representatives and senator over the holidays and mention you are a constituent.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 3 and THURSDAY, JANUARY 4, 2018, Rep Hall
The full NH House will vote on the following bills on the Regular Calendar. Because committee recommendations were divided, the bills may have more debate.
HB 505, establishing an independent commission as an additional authorizing entity for chartered public schools
Committee recommendation – Interim Study, vote 13 – 6
Position — NAY on Interim Study, SUPPORT the bill
Information — Interim study is essentially a kind way of killing the bill. This bill expands the persons or entities that may submit an application and incorporates the change proposed in HB 494 (2017) to require NH residency. This bill also creates a third authorizer, an independent chartered public-school commission. Although the subcommittee did not meet over the summer and fall, this is an option worth further consideration.
***SB 193, establishing education freedom savings accounts for students
Committee recommendation – Ought to Pass with Amendment, vote 10-9
Position – YEA on OTP/A, SUPPORT the bill
Information – This is, by far, the most important education bill of the year. The Education Freedom Savings Account bill shifts the locus of control from government bureaucrats to families, allowing parents additional options for their children based on their individual education needs using funds that the state had already dedicated for education on a per pupil basis. Shifting power from a government monopoly to families choosing in a market will spur innovation and better outcomes. This bill makes education providers directly accountable to parents who are free to choose alternatives when a school is not meeting expectations. Accountability directly to those who bear the consequences of a school’s performance is much superior to top-down regulatory accountability, as in our district school system. The bill also has multiple accountability mechanisms to ensure children meet academic performance standards and funds are applied to approved uses. Also, this bill is constitutional. The notoriously anti-Catholic “Blaine Amendment” prohibits the government from directly funding religious schools. As the Josiah Bartlett Center and Institute for Justice have pointed out, this bill doesn’t do that. Rather, it returns tax dollars directly to families who are empowered to choose a wide variety of schools and educational options, with or without a religious affiliation. It is also consistent with NH’s decades-long practice of allowing tax dollars to follow children to religious schools if the funds are used for educational and other non-sectarian purposes. Although all families should have access to their tax dollars, this bill allows lower-income families additional choices re where their children are educated and what methods are used for instruction. Wealthy families already have these options and the ESA empowers our most disadvantaged children including those in low-income households and students with IEP and 504 plans. Finally, the financial impact to local school districts is minimal. Even if 5% of eligible students participate – that is more than double the utilization in states with existing ESA programs – districts keep nearly 99% of their operating budget. This is well within normal enrollment fluctuations for any given year and is not a hardship to districts especially considering they no longer have the responsibility of educating those children. More ESA articles are available here.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 3 and THURSDAY, JANUARY 4, 2018, Senate Chamber
The full NH Senate will vote on the following bill on the Regular Calendar.
HB 122, relative to withdrawal from a cooperative school district
Committee recommendation — Ought to Pass, vote 4-0
Position — NAY on OTP, OPPOSE the bill
Information — Although well intended, this bill does not resolve the problems smaller districts have when trying to dissolve cooperative agreements with larger neighboring districts. It also does not address the financial aspects of withdrawal, a substantive issue involved in these cases. The study committee formed by HB 1303 (2016) is putting forward three bills in 2018 that better address the imbalance of power and financial issues between large and small districts. This position is in consultation with members of the School District Governance Association of NH and members of various local school boards.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 11, 2018: HOME EDUCATION ADVISORY COUNCIL (HEAC)
3:30pm, Department of Education, Londergan Hall, 101 Pleasant Street, Concord
This is the regular bi-monthly meeting of the Home Education Advisory Council. The room location changes so inquire at the front desk where they are meeting. It is open to the public.
To find your Representatives, go to Who’s My Legislator. Brief and polite phone calls and emails are effective, especially if you mention you are a constituent. Personal stories can be very compelling and memorable. Mass emails are far less effective, but the email for all Reps is firstname.lastname@example.org.