Watching the snow fall and listening to the wind howl today, just a few days after we had temps in the 60s with bright sunshine. Ah, welcome to March in New Hampshire!
Senate Voucher bill. Our biggest story continues to be SB 130, the Senate version of the “voucher” bill shelved in the NH House. This past week, the Senate Education Committee voted along party lines to send SB 130 to the Senate for a vote on this coming Thursday, March 18. As explained below, SB 130 has been amended, but the effect is akin to putting lipstick on a pig—it is still a pig. And so, please contact your NH senator, whether Republican or Democrat, and urge her/him to vote against this giveaway of tax dollars which will result in raising your property taxes.
Educator Vaccines The most consequential news this week started in Washington DC, when President Biden ordered the prioritization of educators (teachers, staff, child care workers) for COVID vaccinations. The goal? Speed up the vaccinations and thereby speed up the reopening of schools and a further return to at least a semblance of normality. Here in NH, Governor Sununu initially declared that President Biden’s pronouncement would make no difference here in the Granite State, but only a day or so later, amidst mounting public criticism, Governor Sununu reversed course. Not that he admitted any such thing. Instead, suddenly the pace of vaccinations here in NH permitted moving up the vaccination of educators starting around the middle of March. Of course, this had nothing to do with President Biden’s order; Governor Sununu just had a sudden insight that this could be done. Typical political move by the governor, but at least it was the right move this time. After bashing AFT-NH, teachers, and their unions for over a month, the governor reversed course and announced NH would do what educators, through their unions, have sought since January—vaccinations! We’ll take it, and even if Governor Sununu refuses to acknowledge us, we can take quiet pride in helping to move NH forward towards a restoration of some sort of normality in this COVID-pandemic world.
NH House Session Over two days this week, the NH House met in session for the first time since early January. The first day, in particular, was ugly, ill-tempered, and ultimately chaotic, one of the worst days in the NH House in recent memory. Keep in mind that the day began with over thirty Democratic members unable to attend due to health concerns related to the COVID pandemic. Republican leadership continues to refuse to even consider any means of remote access to accommodate these representatives, even voting down a rules change to allow for remote access (Republicans have rejected rules permitting remote access at least twice already, then claim the lack of a rule permitting remote access prevents implementation of a remote accommodation). At the same time, however, Speaker Packard (R-Londonderry) continues to bend over backwards to accommodate the 60 or 70 Republicans who refuse to wear masks or take even the slightest precautions in the midst of this pandemic. These “unmasked” Republican members sat on one side of the Bedford Sportsplex, but while they were urged to wear masks when leaving their area, they were not required to do so. Their lack of collegiality, civility, and respect for the welfare of others set the tone for the Republican majority’s behavior the entire day.
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.
Another week has passed and the NH Legislature continues to churn through committee hearings on proposed legislation. House bills that need to go to a second committee (usually Finance) must be reported out of the initial policy committee by Thursday, Feb. 18, and will be considered by the entire House during its scheduled session on Feb. 24 and 25. This in-person session will be held at the Sportsplex in Bedford NH, providing a large space for social distancing. Specific rules and seating arrangements, however, have not been announced by Republican leadership, which continues pandering to the strong faction in the Republican caucus who refuse to wear masks and decry any regulations regarding COVID-19. As for those members with significant health issues or immuno-compromised challenges, Republican leaders have as yet failed to devise any sort of remote-access method of attendance. Businesses, schools, and public meetings across NH are all utilizing remote-access but apparently House Republican leaders remain baffled. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that many of the House members unable to risk personal health by attending in-person are Democrats? Hmmm.
School vouchers. The House Education committee concluded its public hearing on HB 20, school vouchers, this past Thursday, taking in another 4 ½ hours of public testimony. Once again, the majority of witnesses opposed HB 20, and in the final tally of those registering their position on HB 20, 1100 citizens registered in support and over 5200 registered in opposition, a nearly 5:1 margin against the bill. Over the course of Thursday’s continued hearing, many parents testified to the benefits of home-schooling, though virtually none acknowledged their interest in garnering public funds (i. e. your tax dollars) from the State. The committee appeared to obtain little new insight from the line of witnesses, and questions regarding accountability (fiscal or academic), eligibility, discrimination, conflicts of interest, or costs to the State and localities remain unanswered. HB 20 continues to be the broadest and most unregulated voucher program proposed or implemented in the United States, and will immediately drain anywhere from $70 to $100 million from the NH education fund just to pay out to current private school and home-schooled students. It was interesting that Governor Sununu, in his budget address delivered on Thursday, made no mention of this major hole in his proposed budget, the budget that promises to spend more but lower taxes. Quick translation: be prepared for more downshifting of costs to counties and localities.
Action Needed on Critical Hearings This Week. Upcoming this week are more very important hearings and it is vital we have our voices heard.
On Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 1:30 pm, the House Education Committee will take testimony on HB 607-FN (local education savings accounts). As you will read below, this is even worse than HB 20. Please register opposition to HB 607 here. 1. Click on the calendar for February 9th. 2. Select House Education Committee. 3. Select bill number HB607 and 1:30 pm. 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 1:30 pm hearing time.
Two days later at 9 am on Feb. 11, the Education Committee will continue its hearing on HB 20 (voucher bill). If you have not yet registered your opposition to this bill, please do so by clicking this link, DEFEAT HB 20 VOUCHER BILL. 1. Click on the calendar for February 11th. 2. Select House Education Committee. 3. Select bill numberHB20 and 9:00AM 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 9:00 am.
Finally, there is the chance that the Senate will take up SB 61, so-called right to work legislation in their session on Feb. 11. Please contact your Senator and ask them to vote NO on SB 61, which simply establishes the right of employees to freeload and obtain all the benefits and protections of a union contract without contributing a cent towards costs of negotiation or enforcement. Don’t be fooled—no one can be forced to join a union in NH, but if you work under and benefit from a union contract, you should be contributing to the costs of maintaining those protections and benefits
“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.
“Teacher unions.” A phrase often heard in NH news this week. Why? Governor Sununu has come under strong criticism for omitting educators from the top tier categories for COVID vaccinations. Forty-eight of the fifty states have put educators in the top tier, understanding that if they are vaccinated, then there will be fewer positives, fewer quarantines due to potential exposure, etc. Here in NH, there is a severe shortage of substitute teachers and para-educators to replace those required to quarantine. If educators were vaccinated, the quarantine problem would begin to subside, the substitute shortage would be ameliorated, and more schools would begin returning to full-scale in-person learning. Once that happens, parents can then return to work and a more normal life. End result? A quicker return to something resembling pre-COVID life in NH. Now isn’t that something we are all waiting and hoping for this year?
Slowly but surely, the wheels are beginning to turn in the NH Legislature. The Senate has already held a small number of online committee hearings, in essence testing out the system for remote access public testimony and working out any glitches. The NH House is moving more slowly, with committees holding online orientation meetings for their members.
To say the first full week of 2021 was eventful is a gross understatement. The shocking attempt at a coup in Washington DC will be memorialized by historians but should not surprise anyone following politics the past twenty years. Commentary is already flowing fast and furious, and there is little need to add to it. Suffice to say, the attempted coup bears witness to the continued power and stridency of white supremacist thinking and rhetoric and its deep roots in American history and culture. Sadly, lives were lost, including police officer, Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries incurred in the line of duty. Unsurprisingly, Governor Sununu has not ordered flags flown at half-staff in honor of Officer Sicknick. One can only suspect our dear governor is still holding his finger in the air, trying to determine the direction of the political winds before he considers acting or taking a stand in regards to the coup and his party leader, President Trump.