Several important school choice bills met their fate in House committees this week with executive sessions scheduled all day Tuesday and Wednesday. Unfortunately, we had mixed results that show some Reps believe accountability is not to families, but to the state. The entire New Hampshire House of Representatives will vote on these bills, likely at their next session in early March. The next step is to contact your own representatives, asking them to either support or oppose the committees’ recommendations. Find your state representatives at Who’s My Legislator.
Committee vote – Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL), 20 to 0
Position – OPPOSE the bill, support ITL
Update – The House Education Committee voted to kill the bill, Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL), in a unanimous 20 to 0 vote. The bill will go on the House Consent Calendar, meaning it is unlikely to face any effort to pass the bill when the entire House votes on it. This outcome was very important to ensure its failure. Although several committee members spoke highly of the testimony presented at the public hearing and all the emails they received, a few still expressed concern for the minority of homeschoolers they believe may not receive an “adequate education.” A few representatives claimed concerns of reintegrating homeschoolers into public education are why they want more checks on homeschoolers’ academic progress even if this particular bill is not passed. Additionally, some representatives – Tamara Le, Mary Heath, Linda Tanner, and Mel Myler — specifically mentioned a desire to have wellness visits to check on homeschooling families to verify the children’s well-being. The committee intends to send a letter to the state Board of Education asking them to encourage districts to develop good relationships with their home-educating residents and use existing mechanisms to foster more cooperation (ie equal access) and address any concerns re homeschoolers “falling through the cracks” (ie truant officers and compulsory attendance laws). The letter may request that the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) be part of developing a process to further this objective. It is unclear what action the state BOE may take, but this definitely merits close attention. The state BOE has authority to write rules (see Ed 315) that have the same effect as homeschool laws. They also can request legislation be filed in 2019.
Information — The bill requires home-educating families to submit their year-end assessments to their local SAU superintendent, a private school that serves as their Participating Agency, or the state Department of Education. It reinstates this requirement from pre-2012. The results could no longer be kept private by the family. It also restores the Participating Agency’s authority to place a home education program on probation if a child does not meet the performance standards — a composite score at or above the 40th percentile on a standardized test or “progress commensurate with age and ability” on a teacher evaluation. If a child does not meet these expectations a second consecutive year, the program is terminated and the child must enroll in a public, charter, or private school the following school year. This is a much higher standard and severe consequence than our public schools face. It presumes homeschoolers “guilty until proven innocent” which is completely counter to our values as a society. Homeschoolers would again need to prove they provide a satisfactory education for their own children. Under current statute, concerns re educational neglect can be handled on a case-by-case basis. All NH children aged 6 to 18 are required to satisfy compulsory attendance; truancy laws already exist that apply to all, including homeschoolers. Although 700 homeschool supporters appeared at the public hearing to oppose HB 1263, there is considerable pressure to pass this unnecessary bill. The prime sponsor, Rep. Theberge, recently published his testimony in the Berlin Sun, reiterating his bogus claim of homeschoolers “falling through the cracks.” It is ignorant of the Berlin district’s dismal scores that fall short of the standards they would impose on all homeschoolers. Continue to urge the House Education Committee to reject this unfounded bill; it is a solution in search of a problem. There is more information and background on the bill available here, here, and here.
Committee vote – Interim Study
Position – SUPPORT the bill, oppose IS
Update – This bill revealed misunderstanding many employers have regarding NH’s youth employment laws that makes them reluctant to hire and offer volunteer opportunities to people under 18 years old. Most of the limitations are in federal law and apply to teens under 16 years old, but employers are cautious and don’t want to inadvertently go against those rules so they apply them to all underage teens. While many representatives understand the challenges and want to address them, the committee was unable to get an amendment prepared before the crossover deadline. The subcommittee recommended Interim Study, which in the second year of the biennium, is a soft kill. An Interim Study recommendation is very difficult to overturn on the House floor, so this is unlikely to advance any further. However, the two sponsors, Greg Hill and Brian Seaworth, have put in tremendous effort and intend to investigate if there are other bills that may allow us to address it this year.
Information – The current youth employment law, RSA 276-A, includes several restrictions in section four regarding the hours a teen may work during the traditional school day and school year. However, homeschoolers are not required to follow the local school district schedule or calendar. This simple bill removes the limitations that are tied to traditional school hours and days. This is important because schools recognize Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) for course credits and it can impact students’ work-study opportunities. The NH Department of Education encourages district schools to offer ELOs to students as a way to gain “knowledge and skills through instruction or study outside the traditional classroom methodology.” Increasingly schools recognize the value of learning through apprenticeships, community service, internships, and other alternatives. Traditional public and private schools are increasingly offering ELOs as school-day educational options; the current hourly restrictions unfairly limit home-educated students.
Committee vote –Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL), 11 to 9
Position – OPPOSE the bill, support ITL
Update – This was a contentious bill and the vote went along party lines.
Information – This bill seeks to impose redundant requirements on private schools that they must already satisfy via federal laws regarding nondiscrimination and background checks. The proposed requirements also go beyond those applied to public schools; as an example, district schools do not perform background checks on all volunteers. This bill is retaliation to the Education Savings Account bill, SB 193, which already includes relevant nondiscrimination laws. Further, the bill seeks to apply these requirements to schools that accept students using tax-credit programs; however, these programs do not use public funds and are sourced via private donations from individuals and businesses. This is an intrusion in the operation of private organizations and businesses which is a dangerous precedent.
Committee vote – Interim Study, 19 to 0
Position – SUPPORT the bill, oppose IS
Update – This was a disappointment. Chairman Rick Ladd, the bill’s prime sponsor, asked the Office of Legislative Services to prepare an amendment, but because of the holiday, it was not ready before the executive session. The committee had few options, but to recommend Interim Study which essentially kills the bill. It is our hope that the committee will honestly pursue the objectives of this bill and address the significant problems in the existing Manifest Educational Hardship statute.
Information – Families are the ones best positioned to know if a situation presents a hardship for their children. Often times, families seek options when they have concerns regarding academic fit and safety. Unfortunately, most cases of Manifest Educational Hardship (MEH) brought before local school boards are denied. Of all the cases appealed to the state Board of Education in the past 16 years, only one was reversed for the family. House Bill 1492 specifies Manifest Educational Hardship must consider “the best interest of the child” and take families’ as well as medical professionals’ recommendations into account. It also expands options school districts may utilize including “another action that may offer relief.” This bill empowers families to seek relief for their child and allows local school boards a broader consideration of MEH and ways to address those circumstances. There are chronic bullying issues in our schools that go unresolved. The state BOE heard two appeals regarding unresolved bullying situations at their November meeting, cases that dragged out for years at the local level. Because the current statute leaves it solely to district discretion to determine MEH, children are left in vulnerable and potentially dangerous situations. True accountability is to families. HB 1492 allows for more educational options within the public-school system. Read more about MEH, including two recent stories about NH families who have struggled to reach solutions for their children, in Manifest Educational Hardship is Needed Relief.
Committee vote – Interim Study, 12 to 2
Position – SUPPORT the bill, oppose IS
Update – This was the biggest frustration of the week. We videoed the continued public hearing and executive session, as promised. The videos are available on our YouTube channel.
HB 1650 continued public hearing part 1
HB 1650 continued public hearing part 2
HB 1650 exec session part 1
HB 1650 exec session part 2
HB 1650 exec session part 3
HB 1650 exec session part 4
HB 1650 exec session part 5
HB 1650 exec session part 6
The public hearing not only gave DCYF and CPS the opportunity to testify, but a member of the public did so although she did not sign up to speak at the original hearing date.
The director of DYCF was unable to attend, but sent in a letter in which he implies that only his agency is capable of handling educational-neglect concerns. That is false. SAUs are authorized to handle compulsory attendance concerns and may have truancy officers. SAUs are education professionals and are far more familiar with education laws, rules, and requirements. They also may file a Children in Need of Services (CHINS) request if needed; the bill does nothing to change that program or its availability to districts unable to resolve compliance problems. In a state DOE technical advisory effective July 2010, it specifically says “a truant officer or school official shall not file a petition alleging that the child is in need of services pursuant to RSA 169-D:2, II(a) until all steps in the school district’s intervention process under RSA 189:34, II have been followed.” In other words, SAUs and school officials are designed to be first-responders to education investigations before involving CHINS.
The advocacy director of Child and Family Services testified in opposition to the bill. He said DCYF reports have increased from 3000 in a three-month period to 5000, and roughly 5% include findings of educational neglect. Given this enormous work load and priority for protecting children’s physical welfare, it seems DCYF and CFS are overburdened and would benefit from shifting education-only issues to other agencies.
He also gave the impression that without DCYF, no one would handle educational neglect concerns (video #1, mark 3:20). During questions, he reiterated the false information that DCYF is the only agency authorized to handle these issues (video #1, starting at 4:25) and created an extreme hypothetical example of parents taking opiates claiming to be homeschoolers. The CFS advocate also said that DCYF has the power, and would use it, to remove a child from the family and put him or her in foster care to force the youngster into the local district school (video #1, mark 9:45). He said that DCYF and CFS make no distinction between educational neglect and other types of abuse and neglect.
Read that again, and let it sink in. It is particularly alarming when considered along with some representatives’ suggestion to have wellness checks on homeschoolers. (See HB 1263 above.)
This is exactly what we addressed in our testimony;
In the May 2017 HEAC minutes, Chairman Amy Gall remarked, “A family with a Down syndrome child withdrew their child to homeschool because they were concerned with behaviors the child was learning at school. They were worried that they would be reported to DCYF because they are homeschooling their special needs child.”
The January 2017 HEAC minutes reports: A family with multiple special-needs children lost their housing, began homeschooling because one child was medically fragile, and then were reported to DCYF for educational neglect.
Although the CFS advocate stated that homeschoolers are not targeted, it is not an unfounded fear. A year ago, an article was published indicating New York City homeschoolers were systematically reported to Children Protective Services for educational neglect when they filed their intent to homeschool notices.
The executive session begins in video #2. During discussion it was apparent that the committee was unclear whether or not SAUs have the authority to investigate education concerns or if it should appropriately be assigned to DCYF. Many commented that SAUs have difficulty handling truancy issues they are charged to investigate. However; DCYF needs a major “overhaul” and has mishandled many cases of abuse and neglect. Some also incorrectly said that without DCYF handling education investigations, no authority would have the power to do so.
Some representatives claimed that although DCYF is currently charged with investigating educational neglect, they are not mandatory reporters; they said reporting is made to DCYF and uni-directional; that concerns are reported to them, but they cannot initiate reports. That is grossly inaccurate. In RSA 169-C:29, mandatory reporters of child abuse explicitly includes social workers and other child or foster care workers, not only teachers, school officials, doctors, law enforcement officers, and many more people in our communities.
To address these concerns, a friendly amendment, #0783h, was proposed by one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep Dan Itse. It added a study commission that would attempt to resolve how to better equip and clarify that districts handle cases re compulsory attendance concerns. Unfortunately, the vote was a 7 to 7 tie so it failed.
The committee next motioned to send the bill to Interim Study which is a soft kill in the second year of the biennium. This motion passed in a 12 to 2 vote with only Representatives Kevin Scully and Matthew Spencer opposing it.
We are working with friendly legislators to determine if there are any options to keep this bill in play; we will update if an option is possible.
Information –The committee will vote on this bill at their 11:00am executive session. This simple bill removes education as a component of neglect and responsibility of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). HB 1650 treats homeschool investigations the same as other educational cases which are handled by the state Department of Education and local school districts. Compliance with compulsory attendance applies to all children age 6 to 18, including homeschoolers. HB 1650 allows DCYF to focus on higher priority investigations.; it removes education-only investigations from DCYF which is poorly equipped or trained to evaluate education concerns. Instead it places responsibility in the hands of the state DOE and local districts through existing compulsory education and truancy statutes. Further, it places homeschoolers on a level playing field with families who choose public or private schools. Finally, if a home-educating family is investigated for educational neglect, current statute requires them to maintain the Letters of Intent and acknowledgements from their Participating Agencies, reading logs, work samples, and year-end assessments which provide evidence against such charges. This bill does not alter investigations that go beyond educational concerns. HB 1650 takes away a big fear home-educating families face – that their children could be removed from their homes by DCYF simply because of paperwork errors or misunderstandings with education statutes. Homeschooling is not abuse and should not be treated as such. Read more in Level the Playing Field for Homeschoolers and Homeschooling is Not Neglect.
Committee vote – Ought to Pass with Amendment, 12 to 7
Position – SUPPORT the bill, support the OTP/A
Update – The prime sponsor, Rep Victoria Sullivan, introduced a friendly amendment, #0365h, at the request of the state DOE. It specifies the personal information about a family that refuses their child’s participation in the statewide assessment is not subject to the Right to Know law, RSA 91-A:5, III. The bill as amended passed along party lines with Rep Barbara Shaw voting with Republicans in support. We expect significant floor debate on this bill as we experienced with previous refusal bills.
Information – This bill has had three rounds before: HB 276 (2017) that died in the Senate, as well as HB 1338 (2016) and HB 603 (2015) that were vetoed by Gov. Hassan. This bill will break the stranglehold on our students and teachers. 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 NH 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. Unions also oppose using them to evaluate teachers. Unfortunately, federal ESSA only recognizes refusals if state law allows them; this bill will do exactly that. 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. Read more at Children are More Than Test Scores. For information about how to refuse your child’s participation in statewide assessments, read Testing Time.