We are pleased to publish our first annual Legislator Report Card! Grades are based on the session’s school choice bills with roll calls. We followed and reported on many more bills throughout the year, but only roll calls provide direct accountability to individual Representatives and Senators.
Pro school-choice votes are those that respect and empower parents to direct their children’s education. They may support educational options, protect student privacy, enable non-participation in statewide assessments and non-academic surveys, and uphold local control. Anti school-choice votes may reduce parents’ ability to direct their children’s education, create more barriers for families, diminish educational options, compromise student privacy, and decrease local control of our public school system.
We analyzed, monitored, testified, and published on more than 30 bills in the 2016 legislative session. Of those, only ten had roll call votes in the House and three in the Senate. These votes alone do not provide a complete picture of a legislator’s support or opposition to school choice; the sample size is too small and may not cover all issues in a given year.
Throughout the year we used stars to indicate the potential impact to school-choice issues, and this impact was used to scale the roll call votes. Three-star bills, the most critical ones, have a 100% value. Two-star bills have a 80% value. One-star bills have a 60% value, and bills without any star – but still significant to our efforts – receive 40% value. Not voting and excused are not penalized, but missing more than 60% of the weighted votes qualifies as an “incomplete.” The Speaker of the House does not receive a grade because he presided over the sessions and did not vote.
The grading scale is based on a traditional academic report card with the letter grade breakdowns at 90%, 80% and so on before rounding. For example, a Rep receiving a 89.6% would receive a B but show as a 90% score. Legislators that received an A are generally those that support school choice, empowering parents, and local control. Those that received a C are unreliable or partial supporters of our issues (for example, supporting charter schools but not the ability to refuse participation in statewide testing). Obviously those that receive an F are opposed to empowering parents with educational options and seek to give more authority and control to the state.
School Choice for New Hampshire is non-partisan and not affiliated with any political party. We also do not endorse candidates, but hope the Legislator Report Card is an informative tool for evaluating legislators and holding them accountable.
HOUSE: The 2016 Legislator Report Card – House is available here, updated with reinstated votes that impacted one Representative.
results due to rounding
To find your Representatives, go to “Who’s My Legislator?”
The following Representatives served on the House Education Committee:
Rick Ladd, Grafton 4 — Chairman
John Balcom, Hillsborough 21 — Vice Chairman
Barbara Shaw, Hillsborough 16 — Clerk
Ralph Boehm, Hillsborough 20
June Frazer, Merrimack 13
James Grenier, Sullivan 7
Deanna Rollo, Strafford 18
Christopher Adams, Hillsborough 26
Victoria Sullivan, Hillsborough 16
Glenn Cordelli, Carroll 4
Mary Gile, Merrimack 27
Mary Heath, Hillsborough 14
Andrew Schmidt, Sullivan 1
Josh Moore, Hillsborough 21
Allen Cook, Rockingham 11
Robert Elliott, Rockingham 8
Mary Gorman, Hillsborough 31
Mel Myler, Merrimack 10
James Verschueren, Strafford 13
Jason Osborne, Rockingham 4
Terry Wolf, Hillsborough 7
SENATE: The 2016 Legislator Report Card – Senate is available here.
To find your Senator, go to “Who’s My Senator?”
The following senators served on the Senate Education Committee:
John Reagan, District 17 — Chairman
Nancy Stiles, District 24 — Vice Chairman
Molly Kelly, District 10
David Watters, District 4
Kevin Avard, District 12
Although the House had several roll calls through the year, only 11 pertained to school choice issues. One bill, HB 1563, had two votes; one was a failed attempt to pass the bad bill and the second was to kill it, our desired outcome. Because the votes pertain to the same bill, each vote is worth half so this bill is not weighed more than the others. Representatives are graded on all 11 votes on the following 10 bills.
LOSS HB 504, relative to online driver education
This bill was a great victory in the House as we overturned the committee’s ITL 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.
WIN **HB 1120, relative to teacher qualifications at charter schools
We successfully defeated this egregious bill in a House roll call vote. (A Yea vote opposed the bill.) 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 requirement at all. There is more to making a “good teacher” than his or her certifications. There is an art to being a great teacher and connecting with students. Many teachers at charter schools were certified but have not renewed their credentials. Does this change their skills, experiences, and knowledge that they bring to their students? Teacher credentials alone are not correlated with student performance. This bill is about employment and union protection, not the quality of education or serving students. For more information, 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).
WIN ***HB 1192, repealing the education tax credit
We defeated yet another attempt to repeal the successful tax-credit scholarship program in a House roll call vote. (A Yea vote means they supported killing the bill.) There are legislators who think private donations belong to the state. Just as donations to private organizations like the Red Cross or St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital are charitable donations, so are gifts to the Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire (formerly the Network for Educational Opportunity). It is just as absurd to argue that someone’s income belongs to the state before he/she pays taxes. This young scholarship program helps needy New Hampshire families afford tuition at out-of-district public and private schools, and covers many homeschooling expenses. Wealthy families already have choice; this program puts those educational options — funded with private donations — within reach for underprivileged NH children. For more information, read What Do They Have Against Needy Students? based on the 2015 repeal attempt.
WIN *HB 1301, relative to the issuance of youth employment certificates
While not directly about education, it was an important bill for parents’ rights. There was a tough fight in the House Labor Committee plus a roll call vote in the House, but it went through the Senate and Committee of Conference with little resistance. The statute, RSA 276-A:5, as previously written presented an unfair burden for non-public school students who seek employment certificates as it required authorization by a school principal who is not involved in their education. This bill puts the authority in the hands of parents, as they know how their children are performing academically and what strain, if any, employment may put on their school work. This new law went into effect as of August 23, 2016. For more information, read Youth Employment Bill on Governor’s Desk and Permission to Get a Job.
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 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.
WIN **HB 1563-FN-LOCAL, relative to funding for full-day kindergarten pupils
This was an unlikely win as we had to flip the House Education Committee’s Ought to Pass recommendation in a House roll call vote. (A Yea vote was to kill the bill.) Kindergarten is not included in compulsory school attendance (RSA 193:1), and is therefore optional to families. Our public school system has many needs, such as catastrophic and building aid, that are not sufficiently addressed and should have higher priority than funding an optional program. Many communities already offer full-day kindergarten. If this bill passed, it would have discouraged those that offer half-day programs. Additionally, the benefits of full-day vs half-day Kindergarten program are short-lived at best.
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 NH Superior Court ruled against the Croydon School Board in favor of the state DOE in early August. Latest news is that Croydon plans to appeal.
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.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the senate had far fewer roll call votes this year, as is their general practice. The senate is much less transparent which makes it difficult to fully assess their support or opposition of school choice issues. A more complete perspective will be possible in subsequent years as a history is developed. Despite this challenge, the senate’s three roll calls are all on important bills so there is validity and merit to this report card. Two of the senate’s roll call bills were also roll called in the House – HB 1637 and SB 320 which are listed above. The only one unique to the Senate was HB 1231.
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.