On April 19th the Senate Education Committee voted on HB 1637, the school choice for small towns bill, that was inspired by the Croydon program and legal battle with the state Department of Education and Attorney General. This was the committee’s opportunity to evaluate and make a recommendation following the public hearing on April 12th.
In the executive session discussion Sen. Watters said the Avard-Hill amendment, #1343s, was lacking because it did not have the accountability components offered in the amendment by Rep. James Grenier and the Department of Education, #0678h. The Grenier amendment would require participating private schools to adopt College and Career Readiness Standards (aka Common Core) and take the same statewide assessments, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, as the public schools. This would eliminate one of the significant differences between private and public schools, and the DOE attorney called this a “staring point” for compromise. Obviously, this was not agreeable and negotiations were not successful to reconcile the two competing amendments.
Sen. Watters also said that although private schools are approved for attendance (the DOE’s distinction), they are not accountable. This ignores that private schools must satisfy paying customers and compete in the marketplace of educational options. If parents are dissatisfied with the quality of education, or any other element of the school, they can withdraw their children and send them somewhere else. This is true accountability. Instead, Sen. Watters, the state DOE, and Attorney General refer to the Claremont decisions that say the state has a constitutional obligation to “guarantee an adequate education” that can only be satisfied by public schools. This claim has been repeated in their testimony and injunction papers filed against the Croydon School Board. However, this is merely a set of requirements public schools must meet for compliance, including statewide testing, and does not ensure a quality education.
Sen. Watters even said he was “hesitant about school choice.”
Sen. Nancy Stiles then said that HB 1637 was about a single district, Croydon. Unfortunately the senators did not recall that three representatives — Virginia Irwin, JR Hoell, and James Grenier — and several others testified that this legislation would impact 15 small districts across the state which do not directly provide education for all their students. Sen. Molly Kelly repeated that factual error and said she was concerned about the state’s adequacy money going to private schools, ignoring that the state already permits this practice, even across state lines. The Lyme school district has agreements with Thetford Academy and St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont, and Chatham has a tuition agreement with Fryeburg Academy in Maine.
Sen. Watter then repeated all those points again.
Sen. John Reagan then asked DOE attorney, Erin MacIntire for the department’s opinion. This gave her an opportunity to reiterate her testimony from the public hearing and the same talking points made by Senators Watters, Stiles, and Kelly. Ms. MacIntire also referenced specific education rules that only apply to public schools and implied that all private schools were inferior because they do not have the same minimum standards [in Ed 300 and Ed 306] and are not required to have all teachers certified. This ignores that private schools meet other requirements defined by the state DOE in Ed 400, and any other curriculum affiliations they select, such as those for Montessori schools, or other accrediting agencies. Her statement also ignores that chartered public schools are not required to have all teachers credentialed with the state.
The senate education committee then made an Ought to Pass with Amendment motion that failed 2 to 3, with the opposition coming from Senators Watters, Kelly, and Stiles. Then the committee motioned the bill to Interim Study, generally considered a soft kill. This was approved 5 to 0.
UPDATE 4/29/16: The Senate special ordered (moved) the bill to Thursday, May 5th. The entire senate will vote on HB 1637 then. It is most effective to write a personal, brief note to your own senator and mention you are a constituent. We want to overturn the committee’s recommendation, and vote the bill Ought to Pass with the Avard-Hill amendment. Urge them to vote NAY on Interim Study, and then YEA on Ought to Pass with Amendment.
To find your NH senator, and his or her contact information, refer to the senate’s roster page, or you can email all of them at email@example.com.
Jeff Woodburn — District 1, Dalton
Jeanie Forrester — District 2, Meredith
Jeb Bradley — District 3, Wolfeboro
David Watters — District 4, Dover
David Pierce — District 5, Lebanon
Sam Cataldo — District 6, Farmington
Andrew Hosmer — District 7, Laconia
Gerald Little — District 8, Weare
Andy Sanborn — District 9, Bedford
Molly Kelly — District 10, Keene
Gary Daniels — District 11, Milford
Kevin Avard — District 12, Nashua
Bette Lasky — District 13, Nashua
Sharon Carson — District 14, Londonderry
Dan Feltes — District 15, Concord
David Boutin — District 16, Hooksett/Manchester
John Reagan — District 17, Deerfield
Donna Soucy — District 18, Manchester
Regina Birdsell — District 19, Hampstead/Windham/Derry
Lou D’Allesandro — District 20, Manchester
Martha Fuller Clark — District 21, Portsmouth
Chuck Morse — District 22, Salem
Russell Prescott — District 23, Kingston
Nancy Stiles — District 24, Hampton
It is not clear what if any impact this bill and Senate vote may have on the Croydon case as it is still pending in Superior Court. We are waiting for the judge’s decision.
For additional information on HB 1637 and the Croydon school choice program, read the following articles.
School Choice for Small Towns Hits Snag in Senate
Testimony for HB 1637
Croydon’s Day in Court
HB 1637 — School Choice for Small Towns
Guarantee an Adequate Education?
Injunction Hearing for Croydon vs the NH DOE
Response to the NH DOE and Attorney General
It’s About Control, Not the Kids
The NH DOE Continues to Bully Croydon
The DOE Wants to End School Choice
Innovative School Choice Program in Croydon