Three House bills could have ‘devastating’ effect on NH education, officials say, Nashua Telegraph, 2/7/12

posted Feb 7, 2012, 7:15 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 7, 2012, 7:32 AM ]

Three House bills could have ‘devastating’ effect on NH education, officials say

By  Tuesday, February 7, 2012 

New Hampshire would be the first state to withdraw completely from the federal No Child Left Behind law, if either of two bills going before the House of Representatives this week were to become law.

Among the three education bills scheduled to be voted on by House members Wednesday is HB 1413, which would direct state officials to withdraw from the federal education law passed in 2002. Opponents argue withdrawing from the law would cost the state $61 million in federal funding, striking a devastating blow to the state’s low-income schools.

Rep. Michael Weeden, R-Dover, is the primary sponsor of the bill. He said No Child Left Behind has not lived up to its initial standards and has become a problem for school districts, which continue to fail to meet testing benchmarks that go up every other year.

“It’s a flawed system,” he said.

Weeden’s legislation would restrict the state from accepting federal funds for the purpose of implementing the law. That would mean the Nashua School District would lose $4.2 million in Title I federal funds and $5.2 million total, Superintendent Mark Conrad said Monday.

Conrad said this money is used to help at-risk students and supports an early childhood center. It also accounts for more than 90 percent of the district’s budget for staff development and funds at least 17 teaching positions, he said.

“The term ‘devastating’ is no exaggeration,” Conrad said.

The term ‘devastating’ is no exaggeration,” 
said Nashua School Superintendent, Mark Conrad.

Five Nashua elementary schools receive extra reading and math support, among other services, through Title I funding: Amherst Street, Dr. Crisp, Fairgrounds, Ledge Street and Mount Pleasant.

A second education bill that is up for a vote Wednesday would essentially do the same thing as Weeden’s proposal. Under HB 1517, all contracts between the state and the federal government having to do with No Child Left Behind would be terminated. Any future contracts would have to be approved by the Legislature.

Rep. Michael Balboni, R-Nashua, is the sole sponsor of HB 1517. Both bills were given favorable recommendations from the House Education Committee, of which Balboni is the chairman. If passed by the House, the bills still would need approval from the Senate and support from Gov. John Lynch, or a two-thirds override if he vetoed.

The two measures would essentially have the same effect, education officials said Monday, but the sponsors have argued they would remove New Hampshire from the burden of an unpopular law.

One of the law’s most criticized mandates is that by 2014, every child must be proficient in math and reading. As the state’s benchmarks for adequate progress have been raised to meet that requirement, more schools than ever are being labeled as failures.

The number of New Hampshire schools deemed “in need of improvement” has ballooned to 65 percent; 307 of the state’s 469 public schools have been tagged with the label, meaning they have failed to meet “Adequate Yearly Progress” requirements.

Regardless of the sponsors’ intentions, state Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry said the effect would be significant across New Hampshire schools. More than $67 million in federal funding would be lost, causing critical personnel and programs to be lost as well, she said.

“It’s obviously very concerning for us,” Barry said. “You can see deep down that these programs have a positive effect on students.”

A major point of Weeden’s argument has to do with standardized testing.

He wants New Hampshire to implement its own testing system or find another that is more suitable than the New England Common Assessment Program. NECAP is currently administered every October to New Hampshire students as part of the state’s compliance with No Child Left Behind.

The state Department of Education is on the same page, as officials are phasing out the NECAP at the end of the 2012-13 school year. A new test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, would begin the next year, but that’s only if the federal funding from No Child Left Behind remains.

Weeden said Monday that he was not aware of the Smarter Balanced Assessment plans. Weeden also drafted the bill in June before President Barack Obama introduced waivers to No Child Left Behind in October, which allows states to seek education reform through their own standards and measures. New Hampshire is one 39 states that have either applied or shown intent to apply for a waiver.

Weeden is now working with House leaders to implement the waiver option into his bill, with the hope that New Hampshire can opt out but continue to receive federal funding and grants.

If New Hampshire opts out completely, the lack of funds would make it difficult for the state to administer any broad testing system, Barry said.

States must show a certain level of assessment to apply for those grants, she said.

“The funds become really critical in bringing about student achievement,” Barry said.

Withdrawal could also eliminate more than 200 reading and math tutoring jobs, state officials said.

Principal Pat Snow at Amherst Street School in Nashua said Title I funds allow the elementary school to have four extra math and reading tutors, as well as the money to pay for materials and supplies. She said those resources help students reach grade-level benchmarks that they may not reach otherwise.

Snow said the effect would be immediate if the bills pass and the Title I funding is lost.

“It would be devastating,” she said. “There’s a reason why we need the support. It does help our children. It improves their instruction and learning through having extra staff members in the building. If the support is not there, our children would fall way behind.”

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