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.
AFT-NH: Students Would be Harmed and Not Protected by House’s Parental Bill of Rights
CONCORD, N.H.—The following is a statement from AFT-New Hampshire President Deb Howes on the upcoming House vote on SB 272, the Parental Bill of Rights bill:
“Schools are sometimes the only safe and welcoming places for some students, who should be able to count on teachers and school staff to protect them. The Senate’s parental bill of rights legislation blows that up. This bill puts certain students in danger, especially LGBTQIA+ students and those who are dealing with gender-identity issues. If a parent asks a teacher if their child is a member of a gay-straight alliance, the teacher would have to divulge what the student said, even in confidence. A teacher or other school employee also would have to have ‘clear and convincing’ evidence that a child would be harmed—for instance, by parents who objected to finding out their child joined a school club for gay students—before the school could keep the student’s trust instead of automatically complying with the parents’ request for information about activities that do not break any school rules or endanger the student in any way.
“This bill puts teachers in the awful position of investigating student behavior that some parents find concerning, and snitching on those students, if asked by the parents, almost without regard for the consequences. We shouldn’t have to wait until we see actual bruises to help protect a child.
SB272: The So-Called Parental Bill of Rights
What is it?
The so-called parental bill of rights is a bill that would require teachers, if asked to “out” their students. The bill also changes the standard of reporting suspected child abuse for teachers. Currently as mandatory reporter’s, teachers report if they have a “reason to suspect” a child is being harmed or in imminent danger of being harmed. Under this bill the standard changes to teachers needing “clear and convincing” evidence of such harm before they can withhold information from parents that could potentially lead to the child being harmed by their parents or guardians. The bill also allows a private right of action against the school or staff member from the school if a parent feels their rights have been violated. Simply put, a parent could sue you for considering the potential harm to the student if it is judged not to be based on “clear and convincing” evidence instead of disclosing the information the parent wants.
The bill is not unique to New Hampshire. So-called Parental Bill of Rights bills have been introduced in states across the country and in a federal bill that was introduced in the US Congress this year. These bills are targeted at the LGBTQ+ community but also continue to try to weaken our neighborhood public schools by eroding the trust between schools, teachers and students.
Take Action to Help Defeat SB 272 (So-Called Parental Rights Bill)
Thirty years ago in the Claremont Decision, the NH Supreme Court ruled that the language of our state constitution guaranteed every child in NH the right to an adequate education through the public schools and that the state had a responsibility to fairly fund this education. This means that you should not get a significantly worse public education in one district of the state than another, based on your district’s ability to raise local taxes. The NH Legislature has spent a lot of time over the years debating what goes into an adequate public education but has yet to actually fund it fairly. Instead, what they have done two years ago is create a program that diverts tax money away from neighborhood public schools and the 165,000 students who rely on them and gives it to private schools, homeschooling families, tutors, educational technology companies and of course a 3rd party vendor who runs the voucher program at a 10% cost of all the tax money spent.
Remember, this voucher scheme does not require that the student get a complete and robust education for the tax dollars spent. Nor does use of the voucher – public tax money – mean that a private school has to accept a student who doesn’t fit their “mission.” There is no independent fiscal accountability to make sure money is actually being spent on student’s learning needs or that families who are eligible still meet the program guidelines. So, with 165,000 public school students and their families still waiting after 30 years for fair public school funding, why is the NH Legislature spending so much of its time trying to expand the voucher scheme that currently applies to 3200 students?
AFT-NH testimony to the Senate Finance Committee on the State Budget
Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH
Thank you, Chair Gray and Members of the Senate Finance Committee, for reading my testimony.
My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers-NH.
AFT-NH represents 4,000 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, higher education faculty and town and municipal employees across New Hampshire. My members work with nearly 30,000 of the 165,000 public school students in New Hampshire in one way or another as well as working with thousands of public university students.
Every child in New Hampshire deserves a great education, on that I think we can all agree. We all want our children and grandchildren to learn reading, math and science, be inspired by music, art and literature, and have small class sizes, individual attention from a caring, teacher who is an expert in her subject and learning support from highly skilled paraeducators when needed. We also want our students to participate in hands on, experiential and project based learning, learn how to use new technologies to prepare them for jobs, life skills or for college. We want our children to have a well-stocked school library and know how to use it, understand all the lessons of history and the workings of civics so they can be full participants in our communities at all levels.