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.
Happy New Year! It is time to wave a not-so-fond farewell to 2020! One can only hope that 2021 is an improvement upon the year we all just endured. Educators are exhausted, students are tired, health care workers are burning out, and NH’s COVID infection rates and the number of deaths continues to rise with unprecedented rapidity. Meanwhile, as the NH Legislature prepares to resume its work in some sort of fashion, the Republican majority and the governor are preparing an unprecedented assault upon public education and upon labor unions. So gird up, the next few months are going to be busy. We will try to keep you informed as things develop and we will be asking for your aid and involvement as we work to prevent the gutting of public education and its privatization. But first, let’s take a look at the context and setting, as the political circus prepares to open for the 2021 session.
Please accept this written statement from the American Federation of Teachers-New Hampshire (AFT-NH) regarding the proposed rules establishing the Learn Everywhere program. As staunch advocates of public education, AFT-NH is firmly opposed to the creation of the Learn Everywhere program.
As currently outlined, the Learn Everywhere program removes from local control the decisions regarding standards for credit-bearing activities and courses, thereby reversing longstanding New Hampshire tradition. As an organization representing educators who work closely with local administrators and school boards, AFT-NH rejects the centralization of authority over graduation standards and supports keeping it at the level closest to students, teachers, and citizens—the local level.