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AFT-NH Testimony in Opposition to HB 1353 (granting subpoena power to the education commissioner)

AFT-NH Testimony on HB 1353

From Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH

Thank you, Chairman Lynn and Members of the House Judiciary Committee, for taking my testimony today.

My name is Debrah Howes. I am president of the American Federation of Teachers – New Hampshire.

I am here to speak on behalf of our 3700 members across the state. Our members include preK through 12 public school educators and support staff, university faculty as well as town employees. We work with close to 30,000 students every day in public schools in various districts across the Granite State. I am here today to testify in staunch opposition to HB 1353 relative to authorizing the commissioner of the department of education to issue subpoenas.

This totally unnecessary bill creates the false and frankly insulting impression that we have rampant problems with educator misconduct in so many of our public schools that it can only be solved by granting unprecedented investigatory power to the head of the Department of Education! Nobody wants the kind of person who would hurt students to stay in a position where they can ever do it again, whether that is as an educator, a volunteer, a sports coach, a clergy person or any other adult a child might encounter. However, when this proposal to give the commissioner subpoena power was introduced last year in an amendment to HB 533, a bill relative to public school human rights complaints we heard that there really isn’t a huge problem with educator misconduct in the Granite State. In discussion of that subpoena amendment in March 2023, the chief investigator for the Department of Education testified that there are very few instances of public school educator misconduct that result in loss of license. And an attorney for the Department of Education testified that when investigating potential violations of the Educator Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct, the department was usually able to get the information it needed, but it might need to wait until a local school district had finished an employment investigation first. She could point to no specific case where students were left in an unsafe situation due to the department having to wait while local districts followed the policies adopted by duly elected school boards.

We certainly all want students to be safe! But if this were about being safe, the bill would not be limited just to certified educators in public schools. It would cover every adult who works in a public school and has contact with students. To really keep students safe, it would need to cover every adult who works in a public school, private school or for an education service provider – or at least any that receives state education funding through the state voucher program.

We find HB 1533  quite problematic because it gives an unelected bureaucrat an unprecedented power that is best kept by the state Attorney General’s office. It increases the Department of Education’s investigatory powers without any guardrails or due process protections for educators suspected of misconduct. There is nothing in this bill that limits the use of this power to evidentiary hearings or gives other due process protections to the subject of the investigation.  It gives the Commissioner (who is not a lawyer or legal policy expert) almost unfettered leeway to harass educators, and to cause untold trouble and work for school districts, when what teachers and districts want to be concentrating on what kids need to succeed in school. We already have a state Attorney General’s office with subpoena authority and the right expertise to exercise it. If the Department of Education has concerns about an educator, it should be communicating those concerns with the Attorney General’s office.

This amendment, simply put,  is government overreach:

  • It will worsen the witch hunt atmosphere that so many educators are already contending with.
  • It will deflect public school and district energy and resources away from our students.
  • It will cost districts untold money and time.
  • And it’s the wrong tool to put in the hands of the wrong person.

Our students need and deserve the resources and support in their neighborhood public schools to help them succeed and thrive. Teachers and school staff need and deserve your support so we can do our best job for New Hampshire students. Let’s keep focusing on the kids, vs. bringing political infighting to the classroom with intrusive and chilling laws like this one. That’s what educators want, that’s what parents are asking for, and that’s what we owe our students.

  I urge you to vote Inexpedient to Legislate on HB 1353.





Debrah Howes

President, AFT-New Hampshire



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