The House Education Committee recently held a public hearing on HB 1492, a bill that would respect families’ input and expand school boards’ options regarding Manifest Educational Hardship (MEH). It is already in statute (RSA 193:3) and often used by school boards to reassign children with severe special needs to private schools.
We testified in support of the bill and share our remarks below. Those opposed to the bill were superintendents and union groups that are concerned about the cost leaving the district instead of seeing it as funds following the child to an educational option that resolves a hardship.
The committee did not vote on the bill. It is their general practice to schedule an exec session a week or two later at which time they will decide to support (Ought to Pass), or oppose (Inexpedient to Legislate) the bill, amend it, or send it to study. We will post information about the exec session once it is scheduled. In the meantime, the committee can be emailed at HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us.
Read more about MEH at Manifest Educational Hardship, a Needed Release-Valve.
January 30, 2018
To: House Education Committee
From: Michelle Levell, Director, School Choice for NH
Re: HB 1492, relative to a course of action when a child’s attendance at a school has resulted in a manifest educational hardship
My name is Michelle Levell and I am the Director of School Choice for NH, an all-volunteer coalition of concerned citizens, families, and leaders that advocates for educational options in the Granite State. I submit this testimony in support of HB 1492 regarding Manifest Educational Hardship (MEH).
Families are the ones best positioned to know if a situation presents a hardship for their children. Often times, families seek options when they have concerns regarding academic fit and safety. Unfortunately, most cases of Manifest Educational Hardship (MEH) brought before local school boards are denied. Of all the cases appealed to the state Board of Education in the past 16 years, only one was reversed for the family.
House Bill 1492 specifies Manifest Educational Hardship must consider “the best interest of the child” and take families’ as well as medical professionals’ recommendations into account. It also expands options school districts may utilize including “another action that may offer relief.” This bill empowers families to seek relief for their child and allows local school boards a broader consideration of MEH and ways to address those circumstances.
There are chronic bullying issues in our schools that go unresolved. The state BOE heard two appeals regarding unresolved bullying situations at their November meeting, cases that dragged out for years at the local level. Because the current statute leaves it solely to district discretion to determine MEH, children are left in vulnerable and potentially dangerous situations.
At the December state BOE meeting, they held a public hearing on Ed 320, the rules that pertain to Manifest Educational Hardship. We testified as did a Keene-area parent about her family’s experience with the MEH process. The state BOE’s discussion on MEH can be found on the state BOE video site, under the NH SB Video tab. Select the December 2017 meeting, beginning at 2:48:00.
At the December meeting we testified about a desperate family that contacted us in early August. Their son, age 11, had been involved in a severe bullying incident that the school did not resolve. They requested a reassignment to a nearby school in-district, one that is five miles from their home. Instead, they were offered a transfer to a school nearly an hour away; not a realistic option for the parents’ work situations. In the email to us, the mom said that when she asked the superintendent about their transfer preference, he said “that it would be too much of a hassle for them [the district].” They did not indicate that enrollment was a consideration, only their convenience.
Also at the December state BOE meeting, a Keene-area mom spoke about their recent difficulties seeking Manifest Educational Hardship for their oldest son. They requested he be reassigned to a neighboring public high school that offered advanced French classes and a competitive swim team; neither of which is available at their assigned district school. Their school board denied the request and the family appealed it to the state BOE in August. Like the other cases, the state BOE upheld the local board’s decision to require the student remain in his local district school. The mom testified that all the promised access to classes and athletic opportunities were not available once the school year began; the district could not make good on their promises. It impedes this student’s ability to take advanced classes and compete in a school sport. It hampers his opportunities for scholarships and college credit; this is a hardship to the child and family.
Both families wanted to stay in the public-school system; they were not asking their districts to pay for expensive private-school alternatives. Because the boards took a stance without consideration of the students’ best interests, these families are effectively being forced out of the public-school system to seek private options.
If public schools are concerned about educational alternatives and losing families to private schools, this change to MEH will allow school boards to meet families’ needs and keep students in the public-school system. HB 1492 is a pressure release that will keep families in public schools, but still allow for alternatives that are in the best interests of children.
Please support this bill and give it an OTP recommendation.