2017 Highlights

2017 was very successful and lays the groundwork for more progress next year! We set an ambitious agenda and advanced on nearly every effort. Once again the game-changer was grassroots involvement and support. Engaged parents and citizens play a major role in advancing educational options for our children and future generations in the Granite State. Each year we see more concerned residents get involved — this has a huge impact particularly in committees where bills are won or lost. Elected officials should be responsive to their constituents; the good ones welcome it, and it can be very powerful against union and other lobbying organizations that might otherwise sway them. This underscores the importance of electing strong school-choice officials as it has a major effect on many areas impacting our children’s education.

We enjoyed several victories both in and out of the legislature. Below is a list of some other gains followed by legislative highlights. We will publish a 2017 Report Card based on legislators’ roll call votes later this summer.


General Victories

Frank Edelblut, a former state representative and home educating parent, was appointed as Commissionser of Education. It is critical to have someone that supports school choice at the helm of this state education agency.

This was a very successful year for the Children’s Scholarship Fund of NH. Although only in its fourth year of operation, it tripled its fundraising which will allow them to award scholarships to over 300 children for the 2017-2018 school year. Look for more details to be announced soon.

With the support of other homeschool leaders, we launched a new statewide homeschool support group, Granite State Home Educators. In just eight months, we already have over 700 members in our Facebook group.

Finally, local school board members that support school choice and empowering parents have an alternative, the School District Governance Association of NH.


Legislative Highlights

WIN       **HB 103, relative to school district policies regarding objectionable course material
This bill took three years to finally get over the finish line; the language was originally vetted as HB 332 (2015) that passed the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Hassan, and as HB 1231 (2016) that passed the House but was tripped up in the Senate. Thankfully the Governor signed this much-needed bill and it went into effect as of June 16, 2017. This new law addresses a gap in RSA 186:11 IX-c  by requiring parents be given  two weeks advanced notice and access to classroom materials for subjects pertaining to human sexuality. While the statute can be used for any academic area, it did not address the loop hole that parents must first be aware of what material is being used and when. The law allows parents to make informed decisions regarding their children’s education. It promotes communication between the school, teacher, and parents. Note that the statute does not allow one parent to change the material for the entire class; just their child and at their own expense so it is not censorship. School choice is about bringing educational choices closest to the student for the best fit and this is a choice issue within the public school system. It is an aspect of accountability to parents.

WIN       **HB 113, relative to grounds for denial of a chartered public school application
Once again Reps. Mary Gile and Timothy Horrigan introduced a bill aimed at limiting charter school options. It was a repeat of HB 474 (2015) that would allow the state Board of Education to deny the application of chartered public schools solely for budget reasons. However, the legislature, not the BOE sets the budget and allocation of state funds. This was a blatant attempt to justify the charter school moratorium from a few years ago and deny additional schools; see The State Board of Ed Overreaches Its Authority. Thankfully the House Education Committee unanimously voted it an Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) recommendation and the full House defeated it in a voice vote.

WIN       **HB 125, relative to chartered public school boards of trustees
Rep. Timothy Horrigan reintroduced another bill against charters. Like his previous bill, HB 1456 (2016), this legislation would allow the Governor, with the approval of the Executive Council, to appoint members to the board of trustees of all NH chartered public schools. Not only would it hyper-politicize public schools, it is a way that the executive branch could remove parents and taxpayers from the governance of their children’s schools. It would be no more appropriate for the Governor to appoint members to the boards of local K-12 public schools. Thankfully the House Education Committee voted it 13 to 4 with an Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) recommendation and the full House defeated it in a voice vote.

WIN       ***HB 129-FN, repealing the education tax credit
This bill is introduced with a different set of sponsors each year, so it begs the question — Why do some legislators want to remove a charitable program that helps low-income children access schools that fit their educational needs?  The tax-credit scholarships helped more than 200 low-income children across the state in its four years of operation. There is documented academic improvement and parent satisfaction. Several other states with Blaine Amendments have ruled tax-credit scholarship programs to be constitutional because monies are distributed to parents who choose the schools and not to the schools directly. Like other charities, the tax-credit scholarship program is funded by private donations, not money from the state. For more information about the scholarship program, read K-12 Scholarships in NH. This bill was defeated in a House 205 to 154 roll call vote. A “yea” vote was to support the committee’s recommendation to kill the bill.

WIN       **HB 147, relative to the laws governing chartered public schools
This was another  recycled bill by Rep. Horrigan, HB 1351 (2016), that overwhelmingly failed in the House Education Committee and by voice vote in the full House. This bill was an attempt to put more obstacles and regulations in place to limit charter schools and showed gross unfamiliarity with the laws and rules that already govern NH chartered public schools; NH Ed 300 applies to traditional public schools, and Ed 318 applies to chartered public schools. Chartered public schools are designed to be centers of innovation with flexibility regarding methods and processes to meet the educational needs of students not served in traditional public schools. For example, they can take a focused STEM or fine arts approach — both quite different from the traditional public school model. Even with these differences, charter schools and traditional public schools have much in common. Like other public schools, charters must comply with federal and state laws regarding non-discrimination for enrollment and hiring, meet school building codes including ADA compliance, and follow the same privacy protections. Also, charters must meet all federal and state requirements regarding background checks for employees and volunteers. Teachers at charter schools may enter into collective bargaining units, just as they may at public schools. Finally, charter schools must also administer the same statewide assessment in the years they are required of all public schools. For more information on chartered public schools, read Charter School Truths.

WIN       **HB 148, relative to chartered public school teacher qualifications
This was another returning bill sponsored by Reps. Timothy Horrigan and Mel Myler, HB 1120 (2016), that would require all teachers in NH chartered public schools to hold teaching credentials. Current statute requires charter schools to have a minimum of 50% of their teaching staff with teacher credentials. Note that NH private schools have no credentialing requirement at all. Teachers are important, but there is more to making a “good teacher” than his or her certifications. Teaching is an art; certification cannot measure the rapport teachers develop with their students or the breadth and depth of knowledge and skill teachers bring to their classrooms. Note that teacher credentials alone are not correlated with student performance. EdChoice recently released a study that found that many states do not have only certified teachers at their public schools and teacher certification has minimal impact on student achievement. Read Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: Making the Most of Recent Research, March 2008 and Educational Leadership: Research Says…Good Teachers May Not Fit the Mold, December 2010-January 2011 by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Teacher hiring requirements are a critical part of innovation and flexibility unique to chartered public schools and therefore an important aspect of school choice. Fortunately the prevailing majority of House Education Committee members support teachers and charter school innovation. The bill received an Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) recommendation out of committee and was defeated in a full House voice vote.

WIN       *HB 275, prohibiting the inclusion of statewide assessment results in a student’s transcript without consent
This was a solid victory to support parents who do not wish their children to participate in statewide assessments.  This is another repeat bill from last year, HB 1229 (2016); this time passing both the House and Senate Education Committees unanimously and both legislatures in voice votes.  The statewide assessment is not designed as a measurement for individual performance. It was originally created for school district comparisons as well as school and teacher accountability. This new law, that went into effect as of June 16th, prevents assessments from being used for a purpose for which they were not intended. Breaking the testing stranglehold on our education system advances educational options and accountability to parents. For more information about NH’s statewide assessments and impact on school choice, read Tests and Accountability.

LOSS      ***HB 276, relative to student exemption from the statewide assessment
This was one of the few losses this year and is quite unfortunate. It had a roll call in the House, but was defeated in a Senate voice vote largely due to a poor Senate Education Committee recommendation. This bill was vetted twice before; HB 1338 (2016) and HB 603 (2015) that was vetoed by Gov. Hassan. This bill is in response to increasing demand from parents to refuse their children’s participation in mandatory testing, including the statewide assessments that are aligned with College and Career Readiness Standards (aka Common Core). There are many reasons why parents may wish to have their children not participate in the statewide assessment. Given that these tests have no academic or diagnostic value, many parents believe them to be a waste of valuable instructional time. This bill addresses documented instances of students being harassed and punished for non-participation. The bill is consistent with existing NH DOE policies, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and US Supreme Court rulings. Even the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) acknowledges that parents may refuse their children’s participation in statewide assessments. Unfortunately, federal ESSA only recognizes refusals if state law allows them, so this is a critical bill to reintroduce. Again, accountability should be to parents, not politicians. This bill empowers parents to direct their children’s education within the public school system. Also diminishing the hyper-testing mechanisms of Common Core will encourage educational options and variety. For information about how to refuse your child’s participation in statewide assessments, read Testing Time.

WIN       **HB 293, relative to the requirements for filing a chartered public school application
This is another recycled bill that has been attempted twice before as HB 1449 (2014) and HB 253 (2015). This time the sponsors were Reps. Timothy Horrigan, Mary Gile, Marjorie Porter, and Mel Myler, all avid opponents to school choice. Like the earlier bills, it sought to change the charter school approval process by allocating 25% of the total possible points in an application to a single criteria (out of 26), the proposed chartered public school’s mission statement. It is another attempt to limit charter schools and create a subjective approval process. Currently many charter schools in NH have waiting lists; parents clearly want more options in public education, even in areas where there are existing charter schools. Also most charter schools are located south of Concord; the North Country and other rural parts of the state have few alternatives. If a charter school does not adequately serve a family  or community, enrollment will decline and the school would ultimately close. Let chartered public schools succeed or fail on their own merits without being subject to the state Board of Education’s political bias or presumptions of what a community needs. This was another voice vote in the NH House of Representatives to kill the bill.

WIN       ***HB 297-FN, repealing the education tax credit program
This is another bill by Rep. Timothy Horrigan and nearly identical to the other repeal bill, HB 129. The difference between this one and HB 129 (2017) is that the former would be effective immediately whereas the latter would take effect 60 days after passage. The tax-credit scholarships helped more than 200 low-income children across the state in its four years of operation. There is documented academic improvement and parent satisfaction. Several other states with Blaine Amendments have ruled tax-credit scholarship programs to be constitutional because monies are distributed to parents who choose the schools and not to the schools directly. Like other charities, the tax-credit scholarship program is funded by private donations, not money from the state. For more information about the scholarship program, read K-12 Scholarships in NH. This bill was defeated in a House 206 to 157 roll call vote; again, nearly identical to HB 129’s outcome. A “yea” vote was to support the committee’s recommendation to kill the bill.

WIN       **HB 341, repealing the provisions for tax exemption for certain chartered public school facilities
This was yet another bill by Rep. Timothy Horrigan, this time to ham-string charter schools financially. Per existing statute, RSA 194-B, chartered public schools “shall operate as nonprofit secular organizations.” Also, traditional public schools do not pay property taxes and typically the school building are financed by the town through bonds. Traditional public schools already have a financial advantage over charters which are also part of our public education system. This bill would place a tremendous financial burden on charter schools that operate on lean budgets. They provide a critical educational alternative within the public school framework and this bill would cause great financial struggle, significantly increasing the likelihood that they would close. The political maneuverings on this bill waere interesting. Although it received a unanimous Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) recommendation from the House Education Committee, the bill’s supporters pulled it from the Consent Calendar in a salvage attempt. Ultimately it was Laid on the Table, another type of kill, in a House voice vote.

WIN       HB 386-FN, relative to technical corrections to the education tax credit statute
Although this new law makes clear and modest technical changes to the tax credit statutes, they significantly impact the existing program. The new law removes certain restrictions on carrying forward contributions, expands the period for businesses to submit qualifying donations and tax-credit applications, and broadens the approved uses to include distance learning programs, tutors, and dual-enrollment classes. It passed the House in a voice vote, but was a roll call in the Senate; a yea vote supported the bill. The law went into effect as of August 1st.

PENDING             ***HB 647, establishing education freedom savings accounts for children with disabilities
The House of Representatives supported this new initiative in a 184-166 partisan roll call vote although it was ultimately Laid on the Table, a way to suspend the bill. Nonetheless, it was a net positive for school choice because it builds momentum for future advances. This was the first time Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) were proposed in NH and it can take time for legislators to become familiar and comfortable with new ideas. ESAs are funds to a designated account for specified educational purposes. This particular ESA is limited to students with disabilities – children with IEPs or 504 plans. While they are new to New Hampshire, they are not new to other states. Currently five states offer ESA programs and each is unique with respect to the approved uses, eligibility qualifications, administration, accountability mechanisms, and funding sources. The two established programs in Arizona and Florida have been immensely successful. They put an expanded range of educational services and options within reach, particularly for low-income families who face the greatest challenges financing their children’s educational needs. ESAs have withstood constitutional challenges. Financial experts testified that the state and districts would have significant savings – a net positive impact of $59.7 million – if NH implements an ESA program. Empirical evidence shows that school choice programs save money. For more info on the evidence of school choice programs, read A Win-Win Solution by EdChoice. More ESA articles are available here.

WIN       ***SB 8-FN, relative to school attendance in towns with no public schools
This is one of the big victories of the year! This new law which passed the Senate in a 14 to 9 roll call vote and the House in a 210 to 147 roll call decision goes into effect as of August 28th. It clarifies statute regarding local school boards’ authority to contract with public and non-sectarian private schools for those grades Kindergarten through 12th that are not available in-district. It is fully consistent with decades-old practices across the state. This bill, like HB 1637 (2016), was commonly called the “Croydon bill” although it is not limited to one community; it will impact roughly 50 small towns across the state. School tuition programs put educational options within reach for children that would otherwise not have them available. Particularly in more rural areas of our state, there are few alternatives to local public schools; making private schools available is a critical option for these children. Just as school tuition programs expand choice for families, they provide fiscally responsible options for school boards. Given statewide student population declines and rising education costs, these programs allow local school boards more flexibility to provide education at lower rates. Read more at Governor Signs Town Tuitioning. This new law is also expected to strengthen Croydon’s legal appeal to the NH Supreme Court. More details about Croydon’s school choice program and legal battle are available in this article.

WIN       *SB 43, relative to non-academic surveys administered by a public school to its students
This new law was fiercely contested along partisan lines, including a 13 to 10 Senate roll call vote, but was ultimately signed by Governor Sununu and will go into effect September 16th. The law requires active consent (opt-in) prior to non-academic surveys, with the exception of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey created by the CDC which will allow passive consent (opt-out). The new law is consistent with the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). This is a school choice issue public school students should not be subject to increased risks or privacy violations nor should their parents forfeit their rights to direct their children’s education simply because children attend their zip code assigned schools. It is also one aspect of accountability to parents.

WIN       *SB 44, prohibiting the state from requiring implementation of common core standards
This bill took three years to cross the finish line; as introduced, it was identical to SB 101 (2015) that passed the House and Senate only to be vetoed by Gov. Hassan. SB 44 had a partisan Senate roll call vote of 14 to 9. This new law, which goes into effect as of September 16th, strongly declares that the state Department of Education nor the state Board of Education can require local districts to adopt Common Core State Standards or any derivative of these standards. It also expressly gives local school boards the authority to determine, approve, and implement alternative academic standards. The amendment also requires the state BOE to have all new academic standards reviewed and approved by the legislative oversight committee established in RSA 193-C:7. This bill strengthens existing statute that gives local districts autonomy regarding academic standards.  While a positive step, the bill does not impact statewide testing which drives standards and curriculum choices.

PENDING             ***SB 193-FN, establishing education freedom savings accounts for students
Like HB 647, the other ESA bill, this one moved the school choice discussion forward by leaps and bounds. This Education Savings Account bill passed the Senate in a 14 to 9 partisan roll call vote, but was retained in the House Education Committee. This keeps the bill alive for the following legislative session. Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) are funds that children receive to a designated account that are used for specified educational purposes. This bill has few restrictions regarding eligibility and is considered a “universal” ESA and enrollment is optional. While ESAs are new to New Hampshire, they are not new to other states. Currently five states offer ESA programs and each is unique with respect to the approved uses, eligibility qualifications, administration, accountability mechanisms, and funding sources. The two established programs in Arizona and Florida have been immensely successful. They put an expanded range of educational services and options within reach, particularly for low-income families who face the greatest challenges financing their children’s educational needs. ESAs have withstood constitutional challenges. Financial experts testified that the state and districts would have significant savings – a net positive impact of $59.7 million – if NH implements an ESA program. Empirical evidence shows that school choice programs save money. For more info on the evidence of school choice programs, read A Win-Win Solution by EdChoice. More ESA articles are available here.

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