Children have one opportunity at an education that fits their needs. Education is not one-size-fits-all; even good public schools cannot meet the unique needs of every child. This is why we are passionate about supporting children and families to access that “right fit” educational option, whether it is local public schools, chartered public schools, private schools, or home education, and the tools that empower families to reach these opportunities.
As part of these efforts, we monitor legislation that may expand or limit learning alternatives.
The 2019 legislative year was challenging; most bills were hostile to educational options and the few positive ones were met with opposition. We previously published 2019 highlights that goes into a deep analysis of several bills re educational opportunities.
We usually compile an annual Legislators Report Card following the legislative session, but this year had very few roll-call votes; only one in the House and three in the Senate on relevant bills. This tends to polarize results, making it difficult for the Report Card to distinguish among legislators.
Instead, this year we are providing an analysis of the sponsors of the most critical school-choice bills. It gives insight about their position on these issues in the absence of roll-call votes.
We also take a look at the 2020 bills that are filed by the NH House of Representatives. The NH Senate filing period is open and it will be some time before the Legislative Service Requests are finalized from that chamber. The specific language for all pending 2020 bills will not be available until mid-December.
On a national basis, the forefront of school choice is often politically polarized, although not among constituents. In a January 2019 poll 67% of likely 2020 voters support school choice. Many Democratic voters support school choice and are working to depoliticize the issue. A poll by Education Next released in August 2018 shows broad support of “wider choice” for public-school families to access private options. A poll published in August 2019 shows that families who typically vote democrat support a variety of educational options, including charter schools, vouchers, and tax credit scholarships. Families concentrate on their children and want the best for them; political affiliation and agendas are irrelevant in this context.
Unfortunately, in New Hampshire support for educational options among politicians is almost entirely a partisan issue with rare exceptions. As identified in past years’ Report Cards (2018, 2017, and 2016) and this year’s analysis, in the Granite State most Republican legislators support school choice and most Democrats do not.
NH has an influential public-school lobbying contingent. Not only are the big teacher associations active in the state, but also lobbying organizations for administrators, principals, and school boards. They openly oppose educational options. Executive lobbyists have a responsibility to their members, which often place their positions in conflict against the students’ interests. Their focus is not putting students first; their obligation is to their memberships. This nearly always conflicts with creating or expanding educational options to children.
HB 632 and SB 318, Attacks on ETC Scholarship Program
Our SCNH families are very familiar with two particular bills that posed significant harm to educational options: House Bill 632 and Senate Bill 318, both of which targeted the Education Tax Credit scholarship program that directs private donations to low-income students for use at private schools and home education programs. This program started in 2013 and as of spring 2019, supported nearly 900 at-risk children with educational opportunities beyond their zip-code assigned schools. Read more about the ETC program here.
HB 632 sought to completely repeal the successful ETC program, forcing over 400 children back into learning environments that does not fit their educational needs. The bill faced two public hearings before ultimately being tabled in the House. We often wrote about the bill; you can read about the Ways & Means Committee hearing #1 here and hearing #2 here.
The sponsors of HB 632 were Rep. Joelle Martin (D-Hillsborough 23), Rep. Douglas Ley (D-Cheshire 9, Majority Leader, and American Federation of Teachers NH president), Rep. Mary Heath (D-Hillsborough 14 and former Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Education), Rep. Linda Tanner (former public-school teacher), Rep. Mary Beth Walz (D-Merrimack 23 and former attorney for the US Department of Education), Rep. Dennis Malloy (D-Rockingham 23), Rep. Richard Ames (D-Cheshire 9), Rep. David Luneau (D-Merrimack 10), Rep. Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsborough 1, former public-school teacher), Sen. Cindy Rosenwald (D-13, former Deputy Democratic Leader from 2015-2018), and Sen. Jeanne Dietsch (D-9).
SB 318 intended to politicize the Education Tax Credit scholarship program by cutting the program nearly in half and creating a regulating board of hostile public-school lobbying associations. The bill had a public hearing before also being tabled in the Senate.
The sponsors of SB 318 were Sen. David Watters (D-4, former English professor and former member of the UNH faculty union executive committee)., Sen. Jay Kahn (D-10, former higher-education administrator), Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (D-21, Vice Chairman of the NH Democratic Party), and Sen. Martha Hennessey (D-5, former public-school teacher).
HB 632 and SB 318 are not gone yet; the House or Senate may reconvene in 2019. Each chamber needs a 2/3rds vote to take them off the table in order to vote on the bills directly. If the House and Senate do not take action this year, these bills could be introduced as new legislation in 2020.
SB 140, Repeal Effort of Learn Everywhere
Another noteworthy bill was Senate Bill 140 that sought to repeal the new Learn Everywhere program. This innovative program allows public high-school students to receive up to 30% of graduation credits from other organizations that are credited by the state Department of Education. Learn more about the Learn Everywhere program at Pushing Families Out of Public Schools and Granite Edge’s video #5 starting at 37:00.
This bill was sponsored by Senator Jay Khan, chairman of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee. The bill had a roll call in the NH House, 225 to 146. Only two Democrat state representatives, Barbara Shaw (Hillsborough 16) and Matthew Wilhelm (Hillsborough 42) voted against the repeal. Similarly, two Republican state reps voted for the repeal: Richard Beaudoin (Belknap 3) and Troy Merner (Coos 7).
Governor Sununu vetoed SB 140 and the veto override vote in the senate failed, and again was along party lines.
Partisan attacks continued against the Learn Everywhere program as it went through the rules process. Following passage of the 2018 legislation to enable Learn Everywhere, the NH Department of Education developed rules that provide the details on approval and operations of the program. The state Board of Education approved them in early summer 2019, sending the proposed rules to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR). This is a committee comprised of NH Senate and NH House members that must approve state agency’s rules prior to implementation. JLCAR met twice – once in July and again in October – to review the DOE’s rules and both times voted against them along party lines. Rep. William A. Hatch (D-Coos 6) is the Chairman. Read about the most recent attack here.
SB 196, Removing Opt-In for Non-Academic Surveys
Senate Bill 196 was another high-profile school choice bill in 2019. It intended to reverse the new 2017 law that requires active parental consent (opt-in) for students to participate in non-academic surveys. Active consent as required in current law is consistent with the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) and carves out an exception for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey created by the CDC, to permit passive consent. These non-academic surveys are used to justify various behavior and disposition related programs, including Social Emotional Learning and mental-health services. Schools are also financially rewarded by having higher student participation rates; they are effectively selling students’ private information. This is a school choice issue because it is, at the core, about families directing their children’s education.
This bill was sponsored by Sen. David Watters (D-4, former English professor and former member of the university faculty union executive committee), Sen. Jay Kahn (D-10, former higher-education administrator), Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (D-21, Vice Chairman of the NH Democratic Party), and Sen. Martha Hennessey (D-5, former public-school teacher).
SB 196 had a roll-call vote in the Senate where all Democrats present supported and all Republican opposed it. Likewise, there was a roll-call in the NH House, 218 to 150, again mostly along party lines. Only one Republican supported making non-academic surveys opt-out; that is Rep. Dan Wolf (R-Merrimack 5). Six Democrats Representatives opposed the change: Jacqueline Cali-Pitts (Rockingham 30), Megan Murray (Hillsborough 22), Henry Parkhurst (Cheshire 13), Rosemarie Rung (Hillsborough 21), Barbara Shaw (Hillsborough 16), and Alan Turcotte (Merrimack 22).
Governor Sununu vetoed the bill, but the Senate failed to overturn it in a party-line vote.
The NH House of Representatives filed over 600 Legislative Service Requests (draft bills) for the coming year. So far publicly-available information only shows the LSR number, title, and sponsors. The NH Senate’s filing period just began and has several weeks left, so we do not know yet what to expect from them. All these LSRs will have the text available around the holidays.
So far there are a few particular draft bills that have our attention. One filed by Rep. Linda Tanner (D-Sullivan 9), #2294, is clearly regarding the Education Tax Credit scholarship program. Another, #2339, is likely about Learn Everywhere. Finally, #2448 is clearly regarding non-academic surveys. Because the 2019 bills passed the House, Representatives are able to reintroduce the same or similar legislation in 2020. Based on these Representatives’ past positions on similar legislation, it is reasonable to presume these are hostile bills to educational freedom. We expect more to be filed in the coming weeks and remain vigilant.
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It is important to be engaged to defend educational opportunities; we rely on caring Granite Staters to make the difference in the lives and futures of our children. Find out how you can help if you have one minute, one hour, or one day.