March 5, 2018 - Bow, NH
Welcome back to everyone who has been on winter vacation this past week. Hopefully, you found the break restful and relaxing. The Legislature has also been on break for the past week, though some committees continued meeting and pushing legislation forward. This coming week, however, will be a busy one in Concord, especially for the NH House, which will meet three days and confronts a calendar with nearly 400 potential pieces of legislation to be considered. Nearly two-thirds of these proposals are on the Consent Calendar, where legislation goes that has a unanimous or near unanimous committee recommendation (inexpedient to legislate, ought to pass, etc.). One vote at the start of Tuesday’s session will dispose of all legislation on the Consent Calendar by approving the Calendar and all the recommendations contained therein. The only exceptions will be pieces of legislation that individual legislators remove from the Consent calendar for later debate. Thus, it is likely the House will vote on and discuss/debate over 150 pieces of legislation over the course of three days this week. So fasten your seat-belts.
SB 193 The most important piece of legislation from our perspective is one that will not be debated or voted upon this week—SB 193, the bill to establish “Education Savings Accounts,” or what some call “disguised vouchers” or “tax subsidies for those sending children to private schools or home schooling.” This past week, the advocates of SB 193 unveiled their long-awaited amendment to the bill in the Finance Committee. This new version would reduce the eligible student population, but would also eliminate the so-called stabilization grants that were initially promised to local districts hard hit by financial losses. Instead, when a student leaves and takes their State-funding with them, the State will reimburse the District with a one-time payment of $1500, less than half the money lost to the District. Notice, it is a one-time payment, even though the student may be gone for ten years (after first grade is completed). The Legislative Budget Assistant, using very conservative estimates of participation, estimates that over eleven years the cumulative loss to local districts will surpass $100 million, with over 6% of NH students participating. So what the amendment does is reduce the cost to the State but pass it along to local districts and to local taxpayers, with the heaviest impact occurring in urban centers such as Nashua, Manchester and Concord, where numerous private schools are accessible.
These estimates are very conservative and likely understated, for once the monies are available, private schools will expand and new ones will be established to take advantage of this financial windfall funded by taxpayers. Even the leading cheerleader for privatizing NH education, Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut, agrees that participation and costs will rise beyond these estimates. Furthermore, the amended bill does nothing in regards to other problematic areas. There is virtually no accountability for how funds are spent and no usable assessment of educational effectiveness (schools can administer any standardized test and home schoolers can be evaluated by any ‘teacher,’ including those with no certification whatsoever). Parents of students with individualized needs will have no protections under SB 193, for no private school must accept or provide services needed by such students.
Do not be fooled by proponents who argue that so-called choice is driven by academics. National surveys show that nearly half of parents seeking private schooling do so out of a desire for religious education, while others seek athletic opportunities or smaller/larger schools than those available in their local district. So when a parent with great athletic aspirations for their son or daughter chooses a private school because of its religious affiliation or its strong basketball program, you will subsidize that decision. Public funds, whether directly or indirectly, will subsidize these private decisions, and the broad social commitment to providing a strong education to all students will be further eroded and privatization replaces the notion of public education as a public good fostering the educated citizenry essential to the functioning of a democratic polity and society.
House Finance Committee and SB 193 The House Finance Committee-Division II will hold a working session on SB 193 on Friday, March 9, followed by a full Finance Committee session and vote, scheduled for March 14. Remember, this is the same committee that refuses to endorse any cost-of-living increase for NH retirees who have not seen any increase since 2010, on grounds there is no money available. This is the same committee that recommended against resuming any portion of the State’s promised share of retirement system funding for localities and school districts, on grounds that there is no money available. And this is the committee whose leadership so often pledges adamant opposition to any downshifting of costs from the State onto localities. But then, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, or so they say. As we near action on SB 193, we will be calling upon you to contact your local representatives, whether Republican or Democrat, and make your views clear.
Line of Duty Death Benefit for School Employees In other impending action, the Finance Committee will also be taking up HB 1415, providing a death benefit to school personnel killed in the line of duty. We hope such death benefits will never need to be paid here in NH, but the State should adopt this proposal, which is a means of expressing sympathy and respect for those who give their lives in defense of students, our children. The bill will be taken up by Finance on March 14 and like SB193, will come to the House for a vote on March 21 or 22.
Negotiations in Public Amongst the plethora of bills coming to the House this week, a sleeper bill is HB 1344, which would remove the right-to-know exemption from public sector contract negotiations. Imagine negotiating in front of an audience—not exactly conducive to open, honest and direct dialogue which often leads to compromise. Instead, there will be grandstanding, a hardening of positions on both sides, and ultimately greater costs as negotiations invariably wind up in mediation and fact-finding. AFT-NH opposes this bill, as does the NH Municipal Association and most public-sector labor unions. It is bad legislation which is certain to have negative consequences for all parties concerned.
Retirees COLA The House will also take up HB 1756, providing a long-overdue COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) to NH retirees. As noted above, the majority on the Finance Committee have recommended killing this bill on grounds the money does not exist, even for the very small payments envisioned in this bill. Remember this and remind those who vote to kill this bill that they should apply the same logic to SB 193.
I could go on for pages listing bills coming before the House this week, but out of consideration for those reading this bulletin let me conclude by noting just two more bills. HB 1762, repealing a broad swath of rules protecting worker safety and wage protection, is recommended for interim study (the quiet death approach). Let’s hope it goes as recommended by the Labor Committee. In addition, HB 1803, barring payroll deductions for non-governmental entities (United Way, labor unions, etc.) is on the Consent calendar with a 12-1 bipartisan recommendation of ‘Inexpedient to Legislate.’ We hope it remains on Consent and goes away quietly. So you see, it is never all bad news.
Have a good week this week, and prepare to act regarding SB 193.
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