AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2018-05

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January 29, 2018 - Bow, NH

Legislative activity, particularly committee hearings, are in full swing now in Concord, NH, meaning this past week was quite busy and the upcoming looks to be more of the same.  Here is a quick review of what happened and what lies ahead, from the perspective of AFT-NH.

SB 193   The “elephant in the room” remains SB 193, what many label the “voucher bill.”  SB 193 proposes taking  public money from public schools and transferring it to a private agency which will then set up “education savings accounts” to defray the costs of home-schooling or sending children to private (including religious) schools.  The purpose of this convoluted approach is to “launder” the money in an effort to wash it of its public character, thereby avoiding constitutional prohibitions on public funding of religious schools.  The bill had more hearings this week in the Finance Committee, which is trying to ascertain the cost to the State and to local taxpayers, who would need to replace the lost funds.  Since the bill’s provisions are so broad a large percentage of NH students might be eligible, and efforts by the Finance Committee to obtain estimates of costs going beyond the first year have been stymied by bill supporters and the State’s own Department of Education, led by education privatization advocate, Commissioner Frank Edelblut.  The key hearings will likely occur this coming week when the Office of Legislative Budget Assistant is likely to bring forth its estimates of costs running thirteen years out (to full implementation of SB 193).  In case you missed it, please be sure to read AFT-NH’s report on SB 193 entitled Following the Wrong Path: What Can Education Savings Account Programs In Other States Tell New Hampshire About SB 193? 1-16-18.

The finances of SB 193 are the focal point of attention right now, but let’s not forget—this is a deliberate attempt to privatize education and to wreak havoc on public education.  New Hampshire already has one of the highest ratings in the US for its public schools, and choice is already embedded in the public charter schools which exist across New Hampshire.  Why those who choose home schooling or private schools should get what is essentially a tax rebate on their obligation to support public education is really the key question.  As a society, we support public education for all, just as we support public roads and infrastructure.  These are deemed public or social goods, and we all have an equal commitment to maintaining and supporting them for the good of society.  SB 193 aims to undermine the concept of common public good, and for that reason alone should be opposed, along with the likelihood it will raise taxes on all to support the choices of a few.

HB 413- Restore State Retirement Contribution to Cities and Towns   We will continue to follow the saga of SB 193, but there is also another bill of great interest, HB 413, which is scheduled for a vote on February 7 or 8.  HB 413 would restore at least part of the State’s promised obligation to pay for some of the NH retirement system costs borne by municipalities, counties and school districts.  When localities first joined the NHRS, the State promised to pay 35% of the costs, but a half-dozen or so years ago reneged entirely on that promise and now pays nothing.  The result—budget crunches across the State as cities, towns, and school districts struggle with budgetary needs while paying what should be the State’s share of NHRS costs.  It simply isn’t fair, and is a classic example of downshifting costs from the State onto local taxpayers.  As a result, we see rising taxes and rising budgetary pressures on public schools and the public services provided by counties, cities and towns.  In Nashua alone, the failure of the State to honor its promises has led to increases well over $1,000,000 in retirement costs borne by the City.  This cannot continue.  HB 413, defeated by the House back in early January by a narrow margin will come back for another vote on February 7 or 8.  We will be seeking your help in persuading legislators that it is time to honor the State’s promised commitment, stop the downshifting of costs onto local taxpayers, and provide localities with the relief needed to permit funding of existing programs and facilities, never mind improvements or even expansions!

Collective Bargaining and the Right to Know Law   Other bills heard in committee hearings recently include two proposals to modify right-to-know statutes regarding collective bargaining

(HB 1344, HB 1579-FN).  AFT-NH opposes these proposals, and is joined in that opposition by the NH Municipal Association.  As stated in their recent bulletin, “the results could be disastrous.  Requiring all negotiating to be done in public could lead to grandstanding and refusals to compromise by either side.  This seems to be, as the saying goes, a solution in search of a problem.”  Could not say it any better than that!

Death Benefit for School Employees   This coming week there will be hearings on HB 1277, which would return the State back to the standard of three years consecutive teaching after which a teacher is entitled to notification and a hearing if not reappointed.  This used to be the standard, but in 2011 the length of time that a teacher is an “at will” employee was lengthened to five years.  What this means is that while a teacher must seek recertification every three years, she or he faces five years of uncertainty in terms of employment.  AFT-NH’s experience has been that lengthening the period of “at will” employment has not resulted in any significant rise in the number of teachers terminated, so there seems to be no problem that was solved by this change.  Moreover, at a time when many Districts face serious problems in regards to teacher recruitment and retention, how does maintaining five years of uncertainty improve the situation?  Teachers could still be terminated after three years under this proposal—it simply removes the arbitrariness to the process, and when applicable, brings in just cause and binding arbitration.  AFT-NH supports this bill as an improvement in public education and a partial solution to the recruitment and retention problems plaguing public education in New Hampshire.

Finally, the proposal to provide a death benefit to the family of any school personnel killed in the line of duty (HB 1415) will voted on in committee this coming week.  AFT-NH supports this bill as proper recognition by the State that educators, along with fire-fighters and law enforcement personnel, are now too often on the front lines protecting the lives of citizens.  Please read our testimony here. Too many school tragedies have occurred in recent years and even in just the past month.  Money cannot restore or make up for the losses suffered by families who lose a loved one in a violent criminal act at school, but we should at least recognize and honor the sacrifice of those protecting the lives of others.  We hope such a benefit never needs to be paid in New Hampshire, but let us at least honor those who train for such emergencies and will undoubtedly risk life and limb to protect students, our children. 

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

603 831 3661 (cell)

603 223 0747 

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