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AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin (2023-12)

We scored a major victory this week in keeping our public schools safe and welcoming places for ALL of our students and preventing teachers and school staff from being punished for respecting their students’ privacy. That is the good news. The bad news is that we will have to fight the same fight again next week as a very similar bill crosses over from the NH Senate.

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin (2023-11)

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.

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin (2023-10)

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.

AFT-NH Testimony on amendment 2023-0705h to HB 533 (subpoena power to Education Commissioner)

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.

AFT-NH Statement on Subpoena Powers for Education Commissioner

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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AFT-NH President Deb Howes Written Testimony on Parental Rights Bills (SB 272, HB 10, AND HB 619)

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.

AFT-NH Statement on Parental Bill of Rights Bills

Released March 7, 2023

AFT-NH Statement on Parental Rights Bills

CONCORD, N.H.—The following is a statement from AFT-New Hampshire President Deb Howes on HB 10 and SB 272, parental bill of rights bills that would force teachers to violate a basic trust with their students, including those who are LGBTQIA+.

“If we are to preserve trust and a bond between a student and a teacher or any other school staffer—when that student doesn’t have needed support at home—then both the House and the Senate parental bills of rights are harmful. In an ideal situation, teachers and parents should work together to support kids, resulting in important partnerships that have a positive impact on student achievement and well-being. But not every child comes from an ideal situation. If a student looks to a teacher for confidential trust and support—often about their gender identity—don’t make us betray that trust.

“Requiring a teacher to break a confidence, even if the student isn’t ready to have a conversation with their parent, is damaging and wrong. Under these bills, the confusing standard could leave a teacher open to misdemeanor charges, lawsuits or loss of teaching credentials just for listening compassionately and treating a student with respect. Bringing this latest example of K-12 culture wars into the classroom must stop; it erodes trust between students and school staff and ultimately could affect students’ mental health.”

AFT-NH Legislative Alert on School Vouchers

The full NH House will vote on two School Voucher expansion bills this Thursday, March 9th. We need your help to make sure our legislators understand the out-of-control voucher program should not be expanded in any way. The two bills which would expand the current voucher program are HB 464 and HB 367. Legislators have a constitutional obligation to the 165,000 public school students to make sure that each and every one of them has a fully staffed, well-resourced neighborhood public school.

Currently, the NH voucher program allows state education aid to be spent on private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, enrichment classes, extracurricular activities and other educational expenses. The private scholarship organization that runs the voucher program keeps 10% of the tax money spent in the program and there is no independent financial or academic accountability. Of the 3200 students currently receiving vouchers, more than 85% were already in private schools or being home schooled. Currently the program is capped at families with incomes 300% of the poverty level. 

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin (2023-09)

We hope all of our members who were off this week had a restful and relaxing week. If you were in NH it was a good week for winter sports with fresh snow finally making frequent appearances after being scarce for much of the winter. Now March is roaring in like a lion, both weatherwise and legislatively.

AFT-NH Testimony in Support of HB 451 (Prohibition on discrimination)

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 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. We are residents and taxpayers in the Granite State. I am writing today in support of HB 451, relative to the state board of education prohibition on discrimination.

This bill would update the necessary guardrails that protect students from unlawful discrimination in admissions and access to any publicly funded educational programs and activities. State law already prohibits such discrimination in public schools, of course. This bill specifically adds language prohibiting discrimination by any entity receiving state or federal funding—including private schools, online programs, or educational vendors that use voucher funds.

That’s important, because in recent years, our state legislature has passed bills creating one of the nation’s most expansive, costly, and unaccountable voucher programs. We need to ensure that these programs don’t allow discrimination on the taxpayers’ dime.