The House Education Committee will vote on HB 628, the bill that would require background checks on a variety of education providers, at their March 6, 2023 executive session. The committee’s recommendation will greatly influence how the bill is handled when it goes before the entire House of Representatives.
Update 3/6/2023: The committee voted to retain the bill, meaning they will hold on to it. They may bring an amendment forward and reopen the executive session at any time. We will need to keep an eye on this bill. The video of their session is available here and begins at mark 2:50:30.
Although the bill explicitly states that education providers that accept taxpayer-sources funds would be required to perform background checks on teachers and volunteers, sponsors of last year’s bill, HB 1664 (2022), wanted to extend it to traditional homeschooling families and claimed that many are “bad actors” and choose home education in order to hide child abuse. This was revealed in their October 11, 2022 discussion, starting at 1:32:15 in the video recording. Because this bill could apply to so many government-sponsored programs and supporters of this bill spin it against parents, GSHE is taking a strong interest in HB 628.
At the early February 2023 public hearing for HB 628, Rep. LInda Tanner, the bill’s prime sponsor, was the only person to speak in support of the bill while several parents testified against it, saying that families should not be required to have background checks to homeschool their own children. The recording of the hearing is available here starting at 4:43:30.
HB 628 specifically requires education providers in the Education Tax Credit Scholarship program to conduct background checks although the ETC is funded by private donations, not tax-sourced funds. New Hampshire businesses and individuals may donate approved business profit tax, business enterprise tax, or interest and dividend tax money and individuals may donate to the program and take a credit against their federal income taxes. These donations fund the scholarship program.
On the surface, HB 628 might not apply to traditional homeschoolers. However, the NH Department of Education launched two federal grant funded programs that are specifically for homeschooling families – Prenda and KaiPod Learning groups. Both of these programs use taxpayer-funded sources, and therefore expose homeschoolers to this legislation.
It is unfortunate, but no one representing Prenda or KaiPod Learning attended the public hearing to speak in defense of their programs or the families that use their services. The DOE also did not have a representative at the public hearing to speak about these programs.
The NH DOE implemented Prenda in fall 2022, and approximately 200 students are enrolled in their “community pods.” Enrollment is considered 193-A home education although it does not follow the same requirements and responsibilities. Prenda’s contract is set to expire in fall 2024.
KaiPod Learning groups were launched in fall 2023 by the NH DOE to serve up to 40 students in two locations – Manchester and Dover – as an enrichment program. It is not an education provider, but offers adult-supervised daytime options.
Also, the Education Freedom Account (EFA) program is funded by state adequacy money, an average of $4,500 per child, and is often confused with traditional home education, although it is a separate educational pathway. The EFA may be used for a variety of educational purposes, including private-school tuition, special-ed therapies, curriculum, computer hardware, and other approved uses offered by approved vendors.
Even if HB 628 only applies to EFA families, imagine a situation where a family hosts a learning opportunity in their home, maybe to watch a rare astronomical phenomenon, and rents a high-powered telescope for a group of children to use for the event. What if some of the children are EFA students, receiving state money for their learning, while others are traditional homeschoolers that do not use any government-sponsored program. If the EFA parents make a claim of the telescope rental on their EFA account, then the host family would need to be background-checked.
There are many family-based learning groups that have both traditional homeschooled and EFA children enrolled. Imagine a monthly book club that meets at a local library, or a group that meets for periodic field trips. If EFA families claim the costs of learning materials against their accounts, then participating families would need to have background checks, if HB 628 passes.
HB 628 is poorly defined and a slippery slope as it could apply to parents educating their own children and to families who do not use government-sponsored programs.
Please contact the House Education Committee before their executive session on March 6, 2023 when they will vote on HB 628. The committee’s group email is HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us. If the vote is split along party lines, 10 to 10, the default position on the House floor is Ought to Pass (OTP), a positive recommendation for the bill. Once the bill is scheduled with the entire NH House, it will be time to contact your own state representatives urging them to oppose this intrusive bill.
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Granite State Home Educators is an all-volunteer 501c4 nonprofit statewide 193-A home-education support group. This means we focus on traditional/unfunded homeschooling families and issues. Our mission is to empower families, support families’ rights to direct their children’s education, and build community.
By Michelle Levell