AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2021-08

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February 20, 2021 ~ Bow, NH

A rather surprising event occurred this past week, when on Thursday in the Education Committee, chairman Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill) moved to retain HB 20.  The committee quickly voted unanimously to retain the bill, meaning that HB 20, the education “voucher” bill, will not come to the floor of the House in 2021. 

What happened to HB 20 in the House Education Committee?

Why this sudden turn of events?  It began with a wholesale revision of the bill via an amendment presented to the committee on Wednesday, Feb. 17.  This Republican amendment placed an income cap on eligibility (approx. $100,000 for a family of four) and provided some financial assistance to local school districts losing students to private schools and home-schooling.  The joke, however, was that the amendment explicitly repealed these provisions in 2026, thereby returning to giving away public funds to any family regardless of income or need and providing no State assistance to property taxpayers in districts losing State funds to “vouchers.”  In other words, it was a shell-game, aimed at simply delaying the looting of public funds via a massive giveaway accompanied a huge downshifting of costs onto local property taxpayers. 

The Education Committee spent hours on Wednesday parsing the details of the proposed amendment, and the questioning and discussion made abundantly clear that the amendment did very little to correct the flaws inherent in HB 20.  Discrimination against students?  Allowed.  Regular audits of “education freedom accounts” to ensure legitimate expenditures?  Nope.  Ability to pay yourself or a family member to serve as a tutor or transport driver?  Yup.  Independent and substantive audits of the private scholarship organization profiting off of these public funds?  Nope.  On and on it went, for a number of hours, until at last the committee chair agreed to postpone voting on the bill until the next morning.  When Thursday morning then rolled around, the chair then moved to retain the bill, most likely due to serious concerns about whether there would be sufficient support within the Republican caucus, most likely due to legitimate concerns about the fiscal impact of the bill upon local property taxpayers.  And so, HB 20 is shelved for 2021. 

Voucher Battle Continues [Action Requested]

And yet, the battle over vouchers is just beginning.  That same day, the Senate announced that their voucher bill and public funds giveaway,  SB 130 , would have its initial hearing in front of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, March 2. Introduced by Republican Jeb Bradley and co-sponsored by a host of Republican senators, SB 130 is even more bare-bones than HB 20, with virtually no fiscal or academic accountability and an unrestrained giveaway of public funds to the small minority of families who choose to home-school or send their children to private schools.  It is expected that SB 130 will also be amended, and that like HB 20 will be completely gutted and rewritten to disguise its fiscal irresponsibility, lack of accountability, and large-scale downshifting of costs onto local property taxpayers.

Action Needed.  Because the hearing is scheduled, you can already register your opposition to SB 130.  Remember, this is just the second round now of what will be a lengthy campaign to defund and undermine the public schools of New Hampshire, the schools that produce students whose achievements rank NH every year among the top five states in the United States.  We need you to register your opposition as loudly as you did on HB 20!

Please go to the following link:  REGISTER OPPOSITION TO SB 130  1. Click on the calendar for March 2nd, 2. Select Senate Education Committee, 3. Select SB 130, 4. Select “I am a member of the Public”, 5. Click “I Oppose the Bill”.  Please be sure to do this in advance of the 9:00am hearing time.

House in session this week.  In other news, the NH House will finally meet in session this coming Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 24 & 25, in Bedford NH.  As of this writing it is not yet known whether all representatives will be able to attend, since House Republican leadership continues to refuse to allow or establish a system of remote access for legislators with compromised immune systems or major health issues precluding attendance at an event where many will not be masked.  Without such access, thousands of NH citizens will be deprived of representation in the NH House, solely due to the determination of Republican leadership to protect access for their caucus members who a year into the pandemic, still refuse to wear masks.  Since most of those expressing an inability to attend are Democrats, one cannot help wonder if they just might be a bit of a political motivation behind this as well!

HB 609-Innovation Schools. Among the raft of legislation to be considered this week, two bills are of particular import. HB 609, authorizing creation of “innovation schools” passed the House Education Committee on a party-line vote (Republican majority) and will likely come to the House floor on Thursday.  As noted in an earlier Bulletin, HB 609 is really another variation on charter schools, except this time the “innovation” school could be housed within a public school facility.  Public schools already innovate in so many different ways to meet the needs of so many different students, and the stated purpose of public charter schools has been to innovate and experiment (whether they have done so to any significant extent is debatable).  Since innovation already occurs, there is no apparent need for HB 609 except to further weaken standards, accountability and to undermine existing collective bargaining agreements establishing compensation, benefits and rules for the workplace.  It is a bad piece of legislation, but likely to be the first of many bad pieces of legislation to be passed by the Republican majority in the NH House. 

HB 348-Posting of new or amended collective bargaining agreements. The other noteworthy bill is HB 348, requiring the posting for thirty days of a new or amended collective bargaining agreement.  Coming from the Labor Committee, this Republican-sponsored bill does not address any actual or existing problem but simply adds another step to the process of ratifying an agreement.  Voters already have the responsibility to vote on the cost components of any contract and so it is unclear what is to be accomplished here.  All contracts and agreements are public documents, so this legislation is unnecessary and unduly burdensome on both parties to any agreement.  Odd that no similar requirements exist for contracts between public employers and businesses or consultants.  Wonder why not?

We end with this week’s Republican folly, and the winner is Governor Chris Sununu, who on Friday signed an executive order mandating resumption of in-person schooling for at least 2 days per week starting March 8.  Having spent the last two months attacking teacher unions like AFT-NH for blocking reopenings, the governor has acted.  Chris Sununu, “a day late and a dollar short,” solving a non-existent problem!  You see, the few public schools not yet already open on at least a hybrid schedule were already on schedule to surpass the governor’s minimum requirement prior to March 8.  In fact, as reported by the Dept. of Education, the majority of schools still operating remotely are charter schools, beloved by Edelblut and Sununu.  Neither AFT-NH nor NEA-NH represents educators in charter schools, but we have not heard the Governor bashing charter school educators! 

Stay safe and stay healthy.  For those on winter vacation this week, enjoy the rest and relaxation.  And for everyone—stay safe, stay healthy and stay informed and engaged!

#PublicDollarsForPublicSchools

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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. Of interest is HB 274. This bill would require the State to contribute 5% of retirement costs back to cities, towns, and school districts. It would be a modest step towards the State living up to its obligation and providing some relief to local budgets. The Executive Departments and Administration Committee did not reach a recommendation so this will be fully argued on the House floor. 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 and executive sessions for other bills being tracked by AFT-NH.

 

Date/Time

Bill

Title

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 323

Relative to A Statewide Student Assessment Report.

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 278

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

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 320

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

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 110

Relative to The Distribution Of Adequate Education Grants.

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 442

Relative to Penalties For A School's Failure to File Department Of Education Reports.

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 255

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

Thu 2/18 9:15 AM

HB 243

Relative to The Form Of Municipal Budgets.

Thu 2/18 10:00 AM

HB 262

Relative to The Adoption Of Bylaws and Ordinances By Municipalities.

Thu 2/18 1:30 PM

HB 67

Relative to Warrant Articles In Official Ballot Town, School District, or Village District Meetings.

Fri 2/19 9:00 AM

HB 108

Relative to Minutes and Decisions In Nonpublic Sessions Under The Right-to-know Law.

Fri 2/19 9:30 AM

HB 206

Relative to Collective Bargaining Agreement Strategy Discussions Under The Right-to-know Law.

Fri 2/19 11:00 AM

HB 630

Relative to Remote Board Meetings Under The Right-to-know Law and Authorizing Certain Procedures For Rulemaking.

Mon 2/22 1:00 PM

HB 170

Commemorating The First Labor Strike In The United States By Women.

Tue 2/23 9:15 AM

HB 500

Relative to Reducing School Food Waste and Addressing Child Hunger.

Tue 2/23 9:30 AM

HB 83

Prohibiting Non-disparagement Clauses In Settlement Agreements Involving A Governmental Unit.

Tue 2/23 10:15 AM

HB 257

Prohibiting Political Advocacy In Public Schools

Tue 2/23 10:45 AM

HB 215

Permitting School Districts to Contract with Independent Schools and Private Schools.

Tue 2/23 11:15 AM

HB 458

Relative to Provision Of Menstrual Products For Students In Need.

Tue 2/23 12:45 PM

HB 401

Relative to The Duty Of School Superintendents Regarding Criminal History Records Checks.

Tue 2/23 1:15 PM

HB 321

Requiring School Districts to Submit An Annual Report Concerning Gifted Students.

Tue 2/23 2:15 PM

HB 71

Relative to School District Emergency Special Meetings.

Tue 2/23 2:45 PM

HB 234

Relative to Freedom Of Speech and Association On College Campuses.