Whew! What a week for public education in New Hampshire. Sorry this is so long. I will try to make shorter, more frequent updates, unless you tell me otherwise.
The Voucher Bills
The week started with a press conference sponsored by Smart Girl Politics, featuring the key sponsors and supporters of the voucher bills. Lots of people, brimming the confidence. Releasing studies (here's the Josiah Bartlett report and my comments on it) that say the vouchers are great, etc. Here is the video of the press conference (it's uploading now and may not be live until tomorrow). The hosts twice thank Alan Schaeffer, a "school choice" advocate from Connecticut, for writing the bill. You can see his deeply anti-public school approach here. But the whole thing is worth watching. You get a good sense of what it's all about. Notice people saying they do not want to "dismantle" public education.
Clearly, a central argument in this push for vouchers will be that the competition from voucher funded private schools will improve the public schools. Leave aside that this is a very indirect way to spend 10's of millions of dollars improving public schools, it's a reach. They cite "the Florida study" with great confidence, but when asked for it they provide a glossy propaganda piece. I did find one on my own, but it just conveys the baffling complexity of trying to say anything useful about that proposition. Here's my comment on it but it would be great if any of our UNH colleagues would be willing to send me a fair, clear-eyed critique. It's very academic, though not peer reviewed.
Many of us testified at the voucher hearings this week. It went well. Our opposition message was strong and clear. There was a lot of good testimony here in the House and here in the Senate but I would particularly commend to you Sarah Stitzlein's testimony. She made a strong analytical and persuasive presentation to the Senate Education Committee.
Our UNH gang has been weighing in big. Here, attached to the bottom of the page, is Todd DeMitchell's important policy brief on HB 542. Joe Onosco has been making great waves with this piece that has appeared in most all the big papers. At a meeting of parents and others here in New Castle, a mom read it to our Rep., Will Smith, and made him respond point by point. The energy all of you are putting in makes a huge difference.
We learned from the PH article last weekend that there were voucher bill amendments in the works that removed the donor town issue and targeted the money to lower income people. But it turned out there was a whole new draft of each bill. After the press conference, Senator Forsythe, the driving force behind the voucher effort, said that indeed there had been confusion over whether some State Wide Education Property Tax funds would have been taken back as part of the voucher bill but he didn't want to do that and the amendment will clarify that. Copies of the proposed amendments are posted here for SB 372 and here for HB 1607. They are the same except that the House has not agreed to targeting the vouchers to families with $60,000 or less for a family of four.
The voucher bill is proving complex and continues to be in flux. The House Ways and Means Committee named a 3 person subcommittee to work on HB 1607, the House version of the voucher bill. They will meet on Jan 31 and Feb 2. The Senate Education Committee will continue the public hearing on SB 372 on Feb 14.
There is still time to educate the public about it. I'll have an OpEd in this Sunday's Portsmouth Herald. Please write letters, emails, link to the voucher analysis on the web site. These other issues need public education as well.
Opting out of No Child Left Behind
I sent out a press release today entitled, New Hampshire House Education Committee Votes to Withdraw from No Child Left Behind - Twice. It will cost the state $61 million per year. Here's the link to the press release on our web site. Don't miss the telling quotes and video.
Reorganizing the University System out of Existence
The University System organization is always a subject of debate, but the four presidents feel they are working it out and said so in the House Education Committee public hearing on HB 1692 meeting. this week. Even the Union Leader is telling the Legislature to cool off. But everything about UNH is an issue for this Legislature.
Mini-private schools in the public schoolsWe are well familiar by now with HB 542, allowing parents to object to any course material on any grounds. The sponsor, JR Hoell (R-Dunbarton) explained his thinking this way on NHPR's The Exchange: " Why does it have to be that the additional material is taught by the school system? Maybe they can't come up with an agreement about the material but the parent says, "Then I'll go to a private school or I'll go to a private tutor. Will that work? And that may meet all the requirements."
This week, the House Education Committee held a public hearing on Rep. Hoell's follow-on bill, HB 1575, which would allow a student to opt out of any two courses and be given parent directed instruction instead. Again, his image is that private tutors would come into the school. Maybe even parents would get together and hold alternative courses for whole groups of children.