This is part three in a series that will detail the 2016 legislation session. Like last year, this session had mixed results, and in many ways it was a tough year. However, we have a victory even here. Although several good bills failed, no bad bills passed. This is a major accomplishment.
There are two take-away lessons. The first is that elections matter. It is vital to have school choice supporters in office as it will influence the entire biennium. The Speaker of the House determines the Chairmen, Vice Chairmen, and members of all committees. In the senate, these decisions are made by the Senate President. These two sessions showed us exactly how influential the committees are to our efforts. The second lesson is that legislators need to hear from their constituents. When concerned taxpayers and parents get involved, our Reps and Senators take notice. A packed committee hearing is impossible to overlook. An email inbox flooded with personal and persuasive messages is very compelling. Our children’s education is greatly impacted by the decisions made in Concord so it is worth it to make phone calls, send emails, and attend public hearings.
In the coming weeks we will also publish a comprehensive list of this year’s legislative efforts and a Legislators Report Card in advance of the upcoming elections.
Losses — Bad Bills that Passed
Losses — Good Bills that Failed
LOSS HB 504, relative to online driver education
This bill was a great victory in the House as we overturned the committee’s recommendation on the floor, but it ultimately failed in the Senate. This bill would have increased market competition which lowers costs, improves quality, and expands access. Education, including drivers ed, is not one-size-fits-all and this bill recognized that people have different learning needs. Online education is a proven successful method of instruction, including for drivers ed; it is used by 22 states across the country. NH currently offers a high school diploma (through VLACS), as well as hunter and boater ed through online programs. Opponents to this bill, including the NH Drivers Education Teachers Association, resurrected the same tired arguments often used against homeschooling: parents don’t know how to teach effectively; students won’t respect their parents sufficiently to learn; only professionals are competent; how do we know students will be honest on the tests, and more. Sadly the Senate Transportation committee sided with the union instead of common sense and the committee’s ITL recommendation easily prevailed on the Senate floor. Read Senate Fails Online Drivers Ed for more information.
LOSS *HB 1229, prohibiting the inclusion of statewide assessment results in a student’s transcript without consent
This was a bill we should have won, but didn’t. We had a tough fight in the House Education Committee, but were defeated in the Senate. Several times certain members of the Senate Education Committee who usually support parents’ rights and privacy disappointed, and this was one of those instances. HB 1229 was a reasonable privacy protection for students. 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 bill prevented assessments from being used for a purpose for which they were not intended.
LOSS **HB 1231, relative to school district policy regarding objectionable course material
This was one of the bigger disappointments of the year. This was another occasion when our usual Senate allies were unreliable. Because we did not have support from the Senate Education Committee, it was defeated in the Senate. The Senate tied in the first vote (Nay supported the bill), but it was ultimately Laid on the Table. It is considered a “soft kill” but the effect is the same. As often mentioned, committee recommendations make a major difference in the success or failure of a bill, and this is a prime example. The bill as introduced was the same as HB 332 (2015) that passed both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by the governor. It addressed 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 this statute can be used for any subject, it does not address the loop hole that parents must first be aware of what material is being used and when. The bill allowed parents to make informed decisions regarding their children’s education. At the House Education Committee’s public hearing, the prime sponsor introduced a friendly amendment to address the concerns brought up with SB 369 with respect to drug and alcohol awareness instruction. For more information, read Parents’ Rights Vetoed by Governor Hassan about the 2015 bill.
LOSS *HB 1232, relative to visits to schools by non-academic government or private organizations
Another frustrating loss, again due to a fickle Senate Education Committee. This bill protected student privacy from non-educational state agencies and private companies who may enter classrooms. This bill required districts to create a policy informing parents with at least 10 days advance notice and the purpose of the visit. It also provided an opt-out for parents who don’t wish their children to be part of the visit. The bill supported parental rights and improved privacy protections.
LOSS ***HB 1338, relative to student exemption from the statewide assessment
This bill was a fight from the very beginning with a close House Education Committee recommendation and a roll call vote in the House. Once again usually steady supporters in the Senate Education Committee voted against it in committee. This bill was 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). This bill acknowledged parents’ rights to direct their children’s education. This bill addressed documented problems of students being harassed and punished for non-participation. For more information, read Senate Gives Parents’ Rights Bill a Chilly Welcome and Districts are Bullies and HB 1338, Respecting Parents’ Rights.
LOSS *HB 1366, relative to the definition of educational competencies
This bill defined competencies as having specific single-subject academic content areas instead of those “across academic content domains.” It would not have changed which academic areas are included or part of statewide assessments. Unfortunately this bill never had traction and essentially died in the House Education Committee.
LOSS ***HB 1371, establishing a committee to study education savings accounts for families of special needs students
This was a very unfortunate situation. Due to a clerical error with an effective date beyond the biennium, this bill could not pass even if legislators supported Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and the premise of the bill. We expect to see it reintroduced soon as there was initial support before the error was identified. Currently there are five states that offer Education Savings Account programs — Arizona (2011), Florida (2014), Mississippi, Tennessee and Nevada (new in 2015). The two more established programs have been immensely successful. These programs can especially benefit low-income families who face the greatest challenges financing their children’s educational needs. The AZ program is funded via a state voucher, and the FL program is funded through a tax-credit program, so they provide good sources of information. These programs, even the one in AZ, has passed constitutional challenges. For more information on ESAs, read Education Savings Accounts: Giving Parents a Choice by Foundation for Excellence in Education; How to Fund Education Savings Accounts with Tax Credits by Education Next, January 20, 2016; and As Population of Low-Income and Special-Needs Students Grows, So Do School-Choice Innovations, January 30, 2016.
LOSS *HB 1414, repealing the home education advisory council
This was a very controversial bill in the homeschool community and because there was such division, many Representatives voted to maintain the status quo (kill the bill) in a roll call vote. (A Nay vote was to support the bill.) The state Department of Education is not friendly to school choice and parents’ rights; to believe that a council they approve and mange is friendly to homeschool freedom is unfounded. Although the original purpose and function of HEAC was needed in 1990 when homeschooling was first recognized in NH, their utility has greatly diminished as home education laws have changed and support structure developed. Unfortunately, HEAC has poor transparency and accountability to the community they are supposed to represent. In fact, the public is not allowed to speak at their meetings unless given special permission to do so. There are also concerns that HEAC no longer represents the broad and diverse homeschool community of today. Fortunately there are significant resources available to homeschoolers that are able to help when difficulties and misunderstandings arise before they get to a high-level problem. A friendly amendment was introduced that would have eliminated the Board of Education’s rule-making authority and sunset HEAC over a six-year period, but it failed to gain support. For detailed information, including the history and background of other recent deregulation efforts, read The Past and Future of NH Homeschooling and HB 1414 Testimony.
LOSS ***HB 1637, relative to school attendance in towns with no public schools
This was one of the most critical bills of the year and showed the broad support for school choice across the state and in our legislature. The bill was often referred to as the “School Choice for Small Towns” bill. It was also called the “Croydon bill” although it impacted more than a dozen small districts across the state that do not provide full K-12 programs in their districts. Although current statutes allow public districts to contract with other public and private schools in tuition agreements, HB 1637 would have clarified language to support these arrangements. Support for this bill was heavy along party lines, both in the Senate and the House, so it was no surprise when the Governor vetoed it. For more information, read Governor Vetoes School Choice and New Hope for HB 1637. The state DOE vs the Croydon School Board lawsuit is still pending in NH Superior Court.
LOSS *SB 157, requiring high school students to pass a competency assessment of the United States and New Hampshire government and civics
This was a retained bill from last year that we lost early in the 2016 session. Regardless of the subject matter or intent, the legislature should not be involved in telling school districts what should be required for graduation or taught in the schools. It micromanages our districts and reduces local control. This law requires a “competency assessment” as part of a mandatory class for graduation. It is not optional, making it an unfunded mandate against the NH Constitution. For more information, read Top-Down Education in SB 157 Defies Local Control and Good Intentions and Bad Bills guest published on Granite Grok. The House had a roll call vote. (A Nay vote was to defeat the bill.) It became effective as of March 16, 2016.
LOSS ***SB 320, relative to non-academic surveys
Governor Hassan vetoed this much-needed student privacy bill that was the result of 2015’s HB 206 bi-partisan study committee. The committee received evidence that many non-academic surveys include personal questions, and contrary to current law, students are sometimes required to share this information in class when it is not optional nor anonymous. The final version of the bill reached a compromise: most questionnaires would require active parental consent (opt in) except for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) from the federal Center for Disease Control. School officials and representatives of many social programs argued that student privacy was a necessary loss in order to get higher participation rates and secure funding. The ends do not justify the means. Although some students may benefit from the social programs, it does not justify ignoring privacy concerns and parents’ rights to direct their under-aged children’s education. SB 320 was divided along party lines in the Senate, but had more wide-spread support in the House in roll call votes. For more information, read Protect Privacy and Parents’ Rights and Non-Academic Surveys and Parents’ Rights.
LOSS **SB 354, requiring the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the department of education to be confirmed by a joint session of the general court
Currently the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Department of Education are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Executive Council, and serve four-years terms. The bill would have changed this to nominations that are confirmed by a simple majority vote of both the NH Senate and House. This bill made both offices more representative of, and therefore more accountable to the general electorate and not just political appointments of the executive branch. Unfortunately the Senate Rules, Enrolled Bills and Internal Affairs Committee wanted to essentially ignore this bill, so they recommended Interim Study which is a “soft kill”. As expected, the Senate followed their recommendation.
LOSS **SB 355, requiring the members of the state board of education to be elected by a joint session of the general court
Currently positions to the state Board of Education are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Executive Council. This has been a highly politicized position in recent years, particularly in 2014 when the controversial activist Bill Duncan was appointed despite overwhelming appeals to the Executive Council. This bill would have changed the position to one elected by the general court, thereby making the members more accountable to NH citizens. For more information, read Recent BOE Appointment Still Playing Activist, BOE Activist Pressured into Editing His Remarks, and A New Group with an Old Agenda. The state BOE can have significant influence on school choice as it did with the March 2016 vote on a proposed Windham charter school. Like SB 354, this bill was also quietly killed by the Senate.