This was a mixed week for public education. Let’s start with the good news.
Town election day was March 14th for most SB 2 towns and school districts across the state. Of course, an epic nor’easter that dropped 8 to 38 inches of heavy, wet snow and knocked out power to thousands altered those plans for many. Luckily, a recent state law allows voters to vote absentee the day before Town Meeting Day if a winter storm warning has been declared, so they don’t have to endanger themselves to get to the polls. In the interest of public safety, seventy towns postponed their elections for two weeks and rescheduled for March 28th. For those who persevered and held voting, the results showed that even in a raging snowstorm, Granite State voters showed up to support public school students, teachers, and school support staff and their local, neighborhood public schools.
House Action Thursday’s House session dealt a blow to supporters of public education as well as property taxpayers across the state. There is no way to sugarcoat this. Despite our best efforts, anti-public education politicians voted to expand the use of unaccountable school vouchers, further draining money from the Education Trust Fund which funds our neighborhood public schools. This means your local property taxes will go up or your neighborhood public school will have to cut things like arts, sports, and other programs. In fact, one of the voucher expansion bills that passed could result in a family struggling to keep up with their bills now being responsible for funding a voucher for a millionaire who wants to send their kids to an elite private or parochial school. Many families currently in the voucher program are using their vouchers to pay for art, music, and sports, some of the very programs neighborhood public schools will have to cut because of the underfunding from the state. The journey of these bills is not yet over. They will either be put into the budget or sent over to the Senate.
Town election day is Tuesday, March 14th. For all of our locals in a “SB 2” district, any negotiated agreements will be voted on during the town elections. AFT-NH local leaders and negotiating teams have spent countless hours preparing tentative agreements to be presented to the voters. All of that hard work comes down to this one day of voting.
Please share this list with friends and allies so they know how they can make a difference and support our AFT-NH locals. We know that every single vote counts. I know those locals remember very well when a contract was defeated by one vote. Yes, it has happened. Twice as a matter of fact.
Another reminder is that folks can register to vote on election day with proper identification and proof of residence (could be a utility bill for example).
We find this amendment quite problematic because it is so broad it could be applied to any educator at any time. It gives the Commissioner of Education the power to issue subpoenas for “persons, relevant documents and relevant items” under the RSA that gives the State Board of Education rulemaking authority to establish and enforce an Educator Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct. Every single licensed professional – teacher, reading specialist, school counselor, principal - working in a public school is covered by the Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct. In effect, this amendment is saying that you are giving the Commissioner of Education the power to subpoena almost anyone who works in a public school for any interaction with a student that someone thinks might be a problem under the Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct. That is incredibly broad power that no other department has over thousands of workers across the state with almost no restrictions on how it would be used.
CONCORD, N.H.—The following is a statement from AFT-New Hampshire President Deb Howes on HB 533, a bill that would give Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut subpoena power concerning teachers:
“This is the epitome of government overreach, in which Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, an unelected bureaucrat, wants to grab subpoena power already vested in the attorney general to continue his harassment of teachers. Without requiring any evidence of a crime or other serious law violation, the bill would permit Edelblut to subpoena our teachers, worsening the current witch hunt atmosphere under which educators work. This legislation should be soundly rejected, and the state should focus on providing all our public schools with the resources and programs our kids need to learn and thrive. That’s what educators, parents and students want and expect from our state government.”
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There are three bills pending before the legislature addressing parental rights. The bills are SB 272, HB 10, and HB 619. Following is the separate testimony for each bill.
AFT-NH Testimony on SB 272 From Debrah Howes, President of AFT-NH (March 7, 2023)
Thank you, Chairperson Ward and Members of the Senate Education Committee, for reading my testimony.
My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers-NH.
AFT-NH represents 4,000 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees and higher education faculty across New Hampshire. My members work with approximately 29,000 of the 165,000 public school students in New Hampshire in one way or another as well as thousands of university students. I am writing today in opposition to SB 272, establishing the parental bill of rights.
I think it is best to start with the obvious. We know that the students in our neighborhood public schools make the most academic gains and really thrive when parents, teachers and school staff work together as a support team for the best interest of the student. Educators want nothing more than to work as partners with parents who are involved and invested in their student’s education! However, bills like SB 272 can get in the way of that partnership when what parents want for their students differs from what the student needs to feel safe and welcomed and learn at school. This bill tells teachers and school staff they must put aside any obligation to the student, even as simple as treating the student with respect, or teaching the district approved curriculum. If they don’t, they face penalties up to and including loss of license and career. This bill would greatly impair the ability to teachers to teach and students to learn in schools. It creates an environment of distrust among educators and students and does nothing to further students’ education. In fact, it has great potential to limit it.