AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2021-05

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January 30, 2021 ~ Bow, NH

“There’s virtually no transparency or accountability of how the money would be spent or used.  It would also include sectarian [religious] schools, and I would strongly oppose that.” Ley . . . said that it will force local governments to raise property taxes to make up for the loss of state education funding “because it will siphon away money from the public schools, which serve the vast majority of New Hampshire students.”

- “New Hampshire Republicans Pushing to Expand School Vouchers,” 1/27/21, To read the full article, please go to Center Square. Your urgent action needed to stop vouchers.  The above statement by AFT-NH President Doug Ley pretty well summarizes the major problems with House Bill 20, the deeply-flawed proposal to establish an education voucher program here in New Hampshire.  The bill, which will have its initial hearing before the NH House Education Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 1:15pm, proposes to establish “education freedom accounts,” a subterfuge to launder public monies by passing the funds through a private scholarship organization first before distributing the funds to individual ‘education freedom accounts.’  By doing so, sponsors seek to circumvent the NH Constitution’s explicit ban on using public funds to pay for religious/sectarian schools.  But this is only the tip of the iceberg in regards to what is wrong with HB 20.

Take Action now. The hearing on HB 20 is scheduled for the House Education Committee on this Tuesday, Feb. 2, beginning at 1:15pm.  We encourage every reader of this update to sign in against HB 20 using the process outlined below.  We also encourage individuals to testify against HB20.  Talking points and assistance with testimony is available here. If you need further information, please feel free to email terridd@metrocast.net.

Committee hearings are being held remotely so you have an opportunity to register your opposition by clicking the following link: Register Opposition to HB 20 . 1. Click on the calendar for February 2nd. 2. Select House Education Committee and click HB 20. 3. Select, “I am a member of the Public”. 4. Click “I oppose the Bill”.  Please be sure to do this in advance of the 1:15 pm hearing time.

If you wish to testify, this should be a long hearing so check into the meeting when you can at Members of the public may attend using the following links: 1. To join the webinar: https://www.zoom.us/j/99800820017 2. Or Telephone: Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location): 1-929-205-6099 3. Webinar ID: 998 0082 0017   You are encouraged though to still complete the form as noted above. If you would like to submit written testimony you can send to this address: HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us

NH public schools rank in the top five. The educational achievements of New Hampshire’s public school students consistently rank within the top five among all 50 states year after year.  In other words, as measured by student outcomes, New Hampshire’s public school system is one of the best in the United States.  Yet NH Republicans continue to work to undermine and weaken public schools and seek to privatize education in New Hampshire.  Whether it is Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut burrowing from the inside via his “Learn Everywhere” program or the revival of education vouchers via HB 20, the objective is clear—to weaken and ultimately destroy the foundations of one of the best public school systems in the United States. 

How does HB 20 do this?  Quite simply, it proposes to establish the broadest voucher system in the United States, with virtually unlimited eligibility to use public funds to send students to charter or private (including religious) schools, to home-school, or even use the funds to pay for sending students to private schools outside New Hampshire. There are no income limitations, meaning even the wealthiest would receive the same funds, regardless of need.  This is in stark contrast to programs in other states, and amounts to a gigantic giveaway of our taxpayer funds. 

Are there any restrictive provisions?  Yes.  Students with disabilities would be required to waive their rights under NH and Federal law, meaning their rights to IEPs, services, and the basic right to any sort of free education in the least-restrictive environment possible.  Private schools under HB20 could discriminate on the basis of religious faith while accepting public funds or could conceivably prohibit LGBTQ+ students while accepting public funds.  In other words, HB20 seeks to reverse 30 years of advancements in the areas of disability rights and anti-discrimination statutes, all while distributing public funds to the discriminating educational providers. Is this really what New Hampshire wants or needs? 

What about transparency and accountability?  Public school funding is public, meaning budgets are developed in public by publicly-elected school boards and ultimately subject to public approval.  Not so when it comes to HB 20.  Public funds will first be laundered through a private scholarship organization entitled to retain 10% of the funds for its own use, with the remaining funds then distributed into the voucher/ “education freedom” accounts.  There is no requirement for any sort of comprehensive financial audits, reports or provisions for oversight of this scholarship organization. Moreover, the scholarship organization may accept private gifts and grants and is empowered to determine program and provider eligibility for public funds.  In a nutshell, the scholarship organization can decide which programs and providers are eligible, the same programs and providers who can offer gifts and grants to the scholarship organization. In fact, staffers of the scholarship organization can even have financial interests in the very programs and providers whose eligibility is determined by those very same staffers!

No accountability. As for how the public funds are actually spent, that also remains unaccountable.  HB 20 provides a list of education-related expenses that can be covered by the vouchers, but needless to say, the language is vague.  One could easily see a trip to Disney World in Florida worked up in a manner that it becomes a legitimate educational expense.  Want to study mathematics through baseball?  Tickets to Red Sox games could easily be a legitimate expense, not just for the student but to cover the parent or guardian as well. 

Finally, how do we know that the students utilizing these vouchers are getting an adequate public education?  We don’t.  Participating students are not subject to any annual testing or assessment and there is nothing mandating that students reach or surpass the minimum academic and educational thresholds New Hampshire requires of students in public schools.  In fact, the providers receiving vouchers need not file any reports at all as to content or details of their programs.  In sum, there is neither academic nor fiscal accountability, none at all.  Imagine if this were proposed for public schools?  What would be the immediate outcry?    

Update on other legislation. In other legislative news from this past week, the Senate held its hearing on SB 61, so-called “right to work” legislation.  No vote was taken by the committee at the end of the hours-long hearing, and testimony tilted quite heavily against SB 61.  So-called “right to work” legislation is purely aimed at weakening labor unions, the organizations that are key to improving wages, benefits and protections for their members and ultimately, for working families across New Hampshire regardless of union membership.  To be blunt:  it is an effort to weaken your voice in the workplace and drive down wages and benefits until New Hampshire can become “the Mississippi of New England.”  Elsewhere, the House Education Committee held its hearing on HB 609, relative to “innovation schools” (a disguised form of charter school that would be housed within a public school facility).  Since public schools can and do already have a broad array of innovative educational programming, advocates were hard-pressed to explain why HB 609 was even necessary.  Perhaps the key lies in its provision to permit waiving of the provisions of collective bargaining agreements, meaning standards of pay, workload, benefits, and protections could be set aside.  Most witnesses testified against HB 609 and over 400 members of the public registered in opposition, with less than 10 registering in favor of the bill.  Please keep registering your opposition to this vast array of destructive legislation aimed at our public schools.

In closing, we again urge that you take the time to register against HB 20 this coming Tuesday.  If you can offer testimony against the bill, even better.  This is only the opening salvo in the battle over HB 20, so stay safe, stay healthy, and stay tuned. 

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NH Retirement Security Coalition   AFT-NH is a member of the NH Retirement Security Coalition (NHRSC). The NHRSC will be tracking all bills related to the NH Retirement System and continuing advocacy for our members. This was a busy week on retirement bills. You can find the legislation tracker following retirement bills by clicking on the following link NHRSC UPDATES.

For breaking news and other legislative information, please be sure to like us on Facebook at AFT New Hampshire or follow us on Twitter @AFTNewHampshire to receive the latest news.  Please share this with friends so they can sign up for this bulletin at www.aft-nh.org.

The Week Ahead. Here is a schedule of hearings for other bills being tracked by AFT-NH.

 

Date and Time

Bill

Description

Thu 1/28 9:00 AM

SB 52

Relative to City Charter Provisions For Tax Caps.

Thu 1/28 9:00 AM

HB 259

Relative to Employee Uniforms.

Thu 1/28 9:30 AM

HB 303

Relative to Required Pay.

Thu 1/28 11:00 AM

HB 258

Relative to Employee Time Records.

Thu 1/28 11:30 AM

HB 348

Requiring A Public Employer to Provide Notice Of A New or Amended Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Thu 1/28 1:00 PM

HB 448

Establishing A Committee to Study and Compare Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act Standards with The Safety and Health Standards The New Hampshire Department Of Labor Uses For Public Sector Employees.

Thu 1/28 2:00 PM

HB 563

Establishing A Committee to Study A Living Wage and The Utilization Of Public Assistance Among Low Wage Workers and Their Families In New Hampshire.

Thu 1/28 3:00 PM

HB 231

Relative to Workplace Lactation Rights.

Mon 2/1 9:30 AM

HB 459

Prohibiting A Transfer Of Funds Within An Adopted Budget to A General Ledger Line Item In Such Budget That Contains An Entry Of Zero Dollars.

Tue 2/2 9:30 AM

HB 349

Relative to Certification Requirements For School Nurses.

Tue 2/2 10:30 AM

HB 96

Establishing The Office Of School Counseling and Psychology, Establishing The Position Of School Counselor Coordinator, and Making An Appropriation Therefor.

Tue 2/2 11:00 AM

HB 278

Relative to The Use Of Unused District Facilities By Chartered Public Schools.

Tue 2/2 12:45 PM

HB 110

Relative to The Distribution Of Adequate Education Grants.

Tue 2/2 1:15 PM

HB 20

Establishing The Richard "Dick" Hinch Education Freedom Account Program.

Thu 2/4 9:00 AM

HB 214

Relative to School Building Aid Grants.

Thu 2/4 10:00 AM

HB 590

Relative to Paid Sick Time.

Thu 2/4 10:30 AM

HB 242

Relative to The Content Of An Adequate Education.

Thu 2/4 10:30 AM

HB 594

Relative to The School Building Aid Program.

Thu 2/4 1:00 PM

HB 107

Relative to The Minimum Hourly Rate.

Thu 2/4 1:00 PM

HB 517

Relative to The State Minimum Hourly Rate.

Thu 2/4 1:00 PM

HB 320

Requiring A Civics Competency Assessment As A High School Graduation Requirement.

Thu 2/4 1:30 PM

HB 255

Relative to Limited Liability For Institutions Of Higher Education and Businesses.

Fri 2/5 1:15 PM

HB 465

Relative to Permissible Campaign Contributions By Business Organizations and Labor Unions.

Mon 2/8 2:00 PM

HB 459

Prohibiting A Transfer Of Funds Within An Adopted Budget to A General Ledger Line Item In Such Budget That Contains An Entry Of Zero Dollars.