AFT-NH President Deb Howes Testimony in Opposition to SB 341
AFT-NH President Deb Howes testified against SB 341 which mandates school employees to respond "honestly and completely" to written requests by parents regarding information relating to their children. The bill is overly broad and vague and employees would be referred for discipline for violating this impossible language contained in the bill.
On January 4th, the NH Senate Education Committee will convene to hear new proposed legislation. The school voucher crowd is wasting no time to try to expand the unaccountable and expensive voucher program with SB 442 and SB 522. More divisive legislation is being proposed in SB 341. We need you to sign in as opposed to the following bills SB 341, SB 442-FN, and SB 522-FN-A. With more than 100 education bills being proposed this session, we expect to be reaching out to you often to defend our cherished public schools and educators.
We are at a challenging turning point for public education in the Granite State.
We can come together and stand up for the robust and well-funded public schools our students deserve, that are the hearts of our communities and are the kind of workplaces where our teachers and paraeducators are respected as professionals and can use their talents to help students learn and thrive. Or we can continue to stay focused on the many legitimate pressing demands of our own daily lives, in the workplace, and with our families, while our students, our schools and our communities in the face of a series of relentless attacks are dismantled around us.
The legislative session is now officially finished. The State House will see no action on any bill until September when work will begin on any bills retained by the committee.
Governor signs school voucher expansion. This week the Governor signed the expansion for the unaccountable, over budget and unproven school voucher program. We have talked a lot about this bill in this space and will continue to as New Hampshire continues to fail to adequately fund our local neighborhood public schools. Expanding voucher eligibility to families who make more than 100 thousand dollars is bad for your property taxes and bad for the state’s ability to finally fulfill its promise and fund our neighborhood public schools.
State Budget Approved and Proceeds to Governor
This week’s passage of a state budget by the NH Senate and House is a good news/ bad news story.
The good news is that we have a state budget that delivers more overall funding to neighborhood public schools, increases support for the University System of NH, gives state employees a long overdue raise after years of frozen wages and continues Medicaid expansion for the next 7 years that will help many Granite Staters in need. The bad news is it comes at an opportunity cost. This budget included a huge tax cut for the wealthiest people in the state – so wealthy that only 20 people actually pay it! It also increases eligibility for school vouchers to those who choose to send their children to private schools or homeschool them. Despite the increases in this budget, we still aren’t providing what all our students in every town and district need to learn and thrive. And in many towns, local property taxpayers just can’t make up the difference. The Granite State will remain next to last in state funding of local neighborhood public schools and last in funding of its university system. The expression “no budget is perfect” has been said a lot this week and it is definitely true.
Final Stretch of State Budget Approval Process
State Budget and Education Funding Every single Granite State student, no matter which district they come from, deserves a well-resourced neighborhood public school fully staffed by experienced, caring teachers and well trained paraeducators to support their learning. They also need the whole village of other people who help a student learn and take care of student needs during the school day such as: library media specialists, school counselors, behavior specialists, school nurses, secretaries, administrators, cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers and many others. Those students need a local neighborhood school building in which to learn, with lights, heat, safe water and breathable air that won’t make them sick. They need transportation. They also need curriculum and supplemental learning materials such as: books, computers, digital licenses, paper, whiteboards and markers.
Education Funding and Vouchers are on the Docket
While 165,000 public school students wait for the State of NH to fulfil its constitutional obligation to fund an adequate public education in a fair manner no matter where a student lives in the Granite State, the NH Senate continues working on the state budget.
School Funding Back in the Spotlight This week as the Senate Finance Committee brought an amendment to the budget that once again changes the funding formula. The Senate formula increases per pupil adequacy aid a little, increases aid based on free and reduced lunch and to towns with low property tax bases. It is an improvement from the current funding formula but falls short of the formula the House passed last month. The senate is not done yet—an amendment will be brought to increase the so-called “hold harmless” money for cities and towns so no community in New Hampshire will receive less than they currently do.
Here is what we do know about school funding—as the State struggles to properly fund our neighborhood public schools the state is poised to dramatically increase funding for New Hampshire’s school voucher program. The Senate Finance Committee still hasn’t taken action on HB 367 which raises the cap on the voucher program from 300% to 350%. This change may seem small but this makes a family of 4 earning $105,000 a year eligible for a taxpayer funded state education voucher to spend on private school, homeschooling or any other education related expense they choose. Most students using state education vouchers were already in private schools or being homeschooled so they were not costing taxpayers anything. According to Reaching Higher New Hampshire, expanding this program to 350% of the poverty level will cost $48 million dollars each year.
New Hampshire has a constitutional duty to provide an adequate public education and while our commissioner may not be able to define what that means, we know that the state is currently failing at achieving that goal and failing to make sure our students have what they need to learn and thrive in their public schools, and local property taxpayers are left footing the bill. Now instead of using this budget cycle to work to increase funding and move the state towards funding an adequate public education, we could see more funding for a voucher program that is already over budget and has not proven to be an effective educational tool in New Hampshire.
ACTION REQUEST There’s still time to take action on the voucher expansion bills. If you haven’t already done so, please take a few minutes between now and Tuesday to contact the Senate Finance Committee.
Education Freedom Accounts (Voucher Program)
What is it?
In 2021, the legislature passed “Education Freedom Accounts” a fancy way of saying a school voucher program. The voucher program takes money intended for our neighborhood public schools, on average $5,000 per student, and gives it to a child to spend on “educational expenses.” This can range from tuition for private school, to tutor or books or pens and pencils. However, without proper oversight, which this voucher program does not have, in other states we have seen it used for trips to Disney World and other non-education related items. There is also nothing in this voucher program that stops our public tax dollars from being spent on programs that discriminate against people.
The program has no checks and balances. The first three years has produced a program that is stunningly over budget and with no evidence that any of our tax money is being spent to improve educational outcomes. In fact, nationwide, these voucher programs have produced worse educational outcomes for students who left public schools using a voucher to make a different choice than students who have stayed in their neighborhood public schools, even considering how underfunded public schools are.
NH House Rejects So-Called Parental Bill of Rights
NH House Delivers Huge Victory This week as the so-called Parental Bill of Rights was not just defeated but a vote was taken to “indefinitely postpone” the bill. What does that mean? On an Inexpedient to Legislate vote, the bill could come back next year as long as it was deemed substantially different than the current version by the Speaker. On an indefinite postponement vote nothing can come back that even discusses the subject. This effectively means this bill is not only dead for this year but for next.
A deep breath can be let out by students, parents and school staff who want to make sure every child is protected, and that school staff can continue to build a safe and welcoming environment for all students. A big thank you to everyone who took action on this bill over the last many months. Your support made a difference today in this vote, and in the lives of Granite State Families.