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.
In the past three years we have seen money that should have gone to shore up chronically under resourced public schools instead be diverted into school vouchers for any presumed educational expense with few questions asked and no quality control. We have seen approval of alternative learning programs at the state level, some that have no academic quality, override local school district authority and force granting of local high school graduation school credit for those programs. We have seen politics inserted into the classroom with censorship laws stopping honest discussion of race, gender, homosexuality and gender identity as these topics relate to human experiences in history, current events, literature and culture. We have seen the witch hunt atmosphere these laws and proposed laws create, including the misinformed zealots who want to enforce their preferred understanding of what they want the law to be. We are facing an administrative rules revision of what defines a public school through the minimum standards that may eliminate all but the basics: reading, math, science, some history and civics. Class size limits, the need for trained and credentialed teachers and paraeducators, even the need for a building at all will be up for debate when these administrative rules, the ED 306s, are discussed.
With all these negative tides, we have also seen positive forces at work. Granite Staters continually tell us they value their public schools. They show it every chance they have at the ballot box and on Town Meeting floor. When they are given the chance, like in Croydon, they reject the extremists who want to take away the right of every Granite State family to a robust public school education for their children. Voters showed it again in statewide elections in 2022, electing a nearly evenly divided NH House, which was unprecedented for a midterm election. That strong showing had a lot to do with candidates running as true champions of public school students and the schools those students deserve. In Town meetings in Spring of 2023, AFT-NH saw and felt that support directly as 6 out of 6 contracts passed giving us the needed resources and stability to do our jobs helping public school students learn and thrive. Again, in Novembers’ municipal elections, voters selected candidates who specifically ran on supporting robust, well-funded public schools where all students are welcome, are free to learn and thrive, and teachers and school staff are respected and treated as professionals.
As you can see from this update, the challenges continue, but so do the opportunities. We must stand together and keep standing up for the schools our students deserve, our teachers and school staff want to work in, and are the heart of our communities. Now is the time to make our public schools places where all Granite State students can learn and thrive. Watch for our updates for how you can join us in taking action.
Over the next few weeks and months, the education landscape could shift dramatically. New Hampshire has three major inflection points right in front of it. The first is a pair of court decision that came down last week that said the obvious; the state is failing to adequately and equitably fund public education in New Hampshire. The Judge in the ConVal case did not set a definitive amount for how much the state should have to contribute but he did set a minimum floor, and it is almost double what the state currently funds.
After years of work, it appears the ED 306 Rules, the rules that govern our public schools, will finally head into the final rulemaking phase. This may happen at the next State Board of Education meeting on December 14th but they could also keep them on the table for another month. Since most of this process has gone on out of the public eye, how long Commissioner Edelblut or anyone at the Department of Education takes to review notes from listening sessions held in some school districts in various parts of the state earlier this year, and how much input from a small group of invited stakeholders actually makes it into the draft rules the State Board of Education votes on remains to be seen. We will only know once the proposal is brought up for a vote at the SBOE. Once the board votes its preliminary approval it begins a 180-day public comment period, followed by a public hearing.
The last inflection point is this year’s legislative session. The Governor, Senate and House are still controlled by anti-public education politicians with the House being almost tied. The paths to enact good legislation without tremendous public pressure. The House will once again see and hear a record number of bills, many of which would harm our local neighborhood public schools. The House and Senate Education Committees will begin working on these bills in January but first the full House and Senate will meet on January 3rd to finish all of the work that they did not finish from last year. Many of these bills would also damage our local neighborhood public schools.
One court ruling got most of the attention last week but there were actually two very important decisions. The first we referenced above, the ConVal ruling, set a floor, but not a ceiling for state public education aid. It is clear that the Court acted knowing that the legislature has not managed in the three decades since the original Claremont decision to find a way to fully and equitably fund a robust public education for every Granite State student who chooses that option. The State has no Constitutional duty to fund other educational choices such as private schooling or homeschooling. This is the first time the courts have given a number to the constitutional duty of funding public education in the state. Under Judge Ruoff’s ruling the state’s share of education funding would increase from $4,100 per pupil to $7,356.01 per pupil which would mean significant resources for our local school districts and a big break on our property tax bills.
The second decision was part of the Rand case and said that
the communities can no longer keep their excess State Wide Education Property Tax. What is SWEPT? Check out this explainer from Reaching Higher. Basically, towns keeping excess SWEPT is one piece that drives education funding inadequacy. Towns with higher property values end up with excess SWEPT and that lowers their overall local property taxes while towns with lower property values struggle to make up the difference in their costs. The court ruled that towns keeping their excess SWEPT in unconstitutional and so the state will have to figure out how to change the funding formula.
Unfortunately, the rulings do not mean immediate wholesale changes. The Governor’s office signaled pretty clearly that they will appeal the decision and even without an appeal the legislature will have to find the means to make the funding change. This will take time. For now, our funding structures remain the same, but these decisions bring the most hope for real change we have had in a long time.
A few months back we sent an update on the 306 rules which are the rules that govern our local neighborhood schools. (Check our FAQ on the Ed Rules -FAQ ON ED 506 Rules ) The status of the rules has not changed since that update. Last March the State Board of Education tabled the vote on the rules, and it remains with the board. The current best guess is that the Board of Education will take the rules off of the table and begin the official process during their meeting on December 14, but they are not required to do so. If they do not take them off the table in December, they could do it during their meeting in January.
We know that behind the scenes there have been updates to the rules as they were released in March, but we do not yet know if those updates will be reflected in the version of the 306 rules that is voted on by the State Board when they take them off the table. We also do not know if, like last time, Commissioner Edelblut will make his own edits to the rules in a continued effort for him to undermine our neighborhood public schools.
We do know once the rules have been preliminarily adopted by the State Board it will set off a 180-day clock for them to hold a public hearing and then vote on a final set of rules. Much more on this to come as the process develops.
NEXT LEGISLATIVE SESSION
Last legislative session saw continued attacks on public education; from attacks on teachers, to expanding the voucher scheme to the ultra-wealthy, to censoring curriculum and even speech in schools to accommodate a narrow and exclusionary viewpoint that certainly does NOT allow all students, teachers and school staff to learn, work and thrive in a supportive and respectful environment. This legislative session will be no different. The session will begin in January and the House Education Committee alone has over 100 bills. We should expect to see all of these kinds of attacks repeated—and more this year.
Also, in January the legislature will have to deal with all of the bills the committee retained last year. A retained bill just means instead of passing it out of committee during last session, the committee held onto it and so it will go to the full House in January. The Senate also has a few bills that will go to the full Senate in January.
These bills span various issues areas. One bill requires that any school or education service provider that accepts state voucher funds for education to have mandated background checks to make sure Granite State kids are safe. We feel that is a good measure for the safety of students. Another bill would publish teachers’ salaries on the SAU website and another bill addresses including mental health in the health curriculum in schools. In short, starting on January 3rd Education will be a legislative focus and it will continue that way until June.
We will be using this space for frequent updates and will need you all to be engaged so we can help get good legislation passed while making sure we protect our neighborhood public schools.
Thank you for staying engaged so together we can make sure Granite State public schools are places where all students feel welcome, can learn and thrive.
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 http://nh.aft.org/. Please pass along to colleagues and friends so they too can receive these important updates.
You can also read written testimony submitted to the legislature at STATE HOUSE NEWS.