The House and Senate must finalize bills this week if they must go to a second committee, generally those with fiscal notes. Any differences between the House and Senate versions must be negotiated as we head into May and June. Although a handful of school choice bills remain, some are very significant. We’re not done yet! As always, the detailed schedule with our analysis and recommendations is below with legislators’ contact information at the end.
Public hearings are the best chance to communicate with committee members and share your opinion. The Legislative Office Building (LOB) is located immediately behind the State House at 33 N. State Street in Concord. For senate bills, sign the white sheet on a side table just inside the door to indicate your support or opposition for a bill, and if you intend to speak. The protocol is a little different in the House. The public may sign the blue sheet near the room entrance to indicate support or opposition to any bill; fill out a pink card if you intend to speak. If possible, provide written copies for each member plus the committee secretary. If you are unable to attend hearings email the committee, or better yet, call them individually and indicate if you are a constituent.
Some bills are scheduled for executive session which is when the committee discusses and votes on legislation. The public has until then to make an impact on the committee’s recommendation which is very influential when the entire chamber votes. Exec sessions may happen anytime after the public hearing closes so prompt action is highly recommended.
And other bills will be voted on by the entire NH House of Representatives and/or Senate as noted in the schedule. This is when all members of the chamber will vote YEA (to support the committee’s recommendation) or NAY (to oppose the recommendation). Please contact your legislators before the session day with brief, polite messages and mention you are a constituent.
Legislators’ contact information is at the end of the article.
TUESDAY, APRIL 25, 2017: HOUSE EDUCATION, ROOM 207 LOB
10:00 a.m. Executive session on pending legislation
***SB 8-FN, relative to school attendance in towns with no public schools
position — SUPPORT
information — This is the senate version of HB 557, the town tuitioning bill as originally written, that would allow small districts to make agreements with other public school districts or private schools if the grade-level is not offered in-district. This bill is a return of the Committee of Conference language of HB 1637 (2016), aka the Croydon bill, that passed the House and Senate only to be vetoed by Gov. Hassan. It clarifies existing statutes that small towns across the state that do not provide full K through 12 education in-district may enter into tuition agreements with other schools. It is consistent with RSA 194:22 and RSA 193:1. It is also in line with practices by NH districts that have tuition agreements with private schools, even some located out of state. This has the potential to impact more than 50 small school districts that currently contract with neighboring districts. For additional information, read Town Tuitioning in Croydon, Options for Small Towns, and Governor Vetoes School Choice that references the 2016 bill.
***SB 43, relative to non-academic surveys administered by a public school to its students
position — SUPPORT
information — This bill has been in the works for quite some time. HB 206 (2015) created a bi-partisan study committee to examine the numerous non-academic surveys given to our students, and is identical to SB 320 (2016) which was vetoed by Gov. Hassan. Schools routinely ask students to complete non-academic surveys and questionnaires. Usually they are part of state or federal programs or university research projects to assess students’ attitudes, values, decision-making, and behaviors. The committee received reports that these non-academic surveys are sometimes required school work and not anonymous or secure. In fact, the head of the counseling department at Laconia High School admitted in a Concord Monitor interview that the surveys are identifiable. Sometimes surveys request sufficient information that a participant’s identity can easily be reconstructed. Typically the intrusiveness and nature of these surveys are not fully disclosed to parents to make a informed decision about their students’ participation. SB 43 is consistent with federal law, the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). Note that it is directed to students’ rights in public schools and specifically regards non-academic surveys. Parents, as the guardians, are empowered to uphold these rights on behalf of their minor-aged children. The PPRA provides a long list of rights including consent before students participate, receive notice with an opportunity to opt-out, and inspect the surveys. School officials, counselors, and representatives of many social programs have argued that student privacy is a necessary loss in order to produce 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 current statute, privacy concerns, and parents’ rights to direct their under-age children’s education. Like last year’s bill, SB 43 carves out an exception for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), a survey that funds many of the supplemental programs offered in schools. This survey would continue to require passive consent (opt-out) from parents. This is a school choice issue because children’s educational experiences should be directed by the people closest to them, the parents, especially because surveys often cover sensitive and personal issues. Public school students should not be subject to increased risks or privacy violations simply because they attend their zip code assigned schools.
***SB 193-FN, establishing education freedom savings accounts for students
position — SUPPORT
information — Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) are funds that children receive to a designated account that are used for specified educational purposes. 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. This bill has few restrictions regarding eligibility and is considered a “universal” ESA. The funds are 90% of the per pupil state adequacy amount plus any differentiated aid the home district would receive for students in grades 1 and above; 50% for kindergarten students. With 5% going to administration by a non-profit scholarship organization, the state keeps 5% which represents an immediate savings. Enrollment is optional. 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.
The Senate and House Education Committee members with contact information is available here. Brief phone calls are most effective, but personalized emails directed to an individual are also helpful; mention if you are a constituent. Personal stories and messages are helpful.
To contact the entire House Education Committee, you may send one email to HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us. Below is a list of the House Education Committee members’ emails for an easy copy/paste.
[table id=5 /]