DEFENDING NEW HAMPSHIRE PUBLIC EDUCATION
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
Over 20 Bills on the Anti-Public Education Agenda for the 2012 Session of the New Hampshire Legislature
At his February 2 press conference in the Legislative Office Building, the House Majority Leader, Rep. DJ Bettencourt (R-Salem), framed the Republican legislative agenda as jobs and education, confirming that New Hampshire's public schools are in the central focus of this legislative session.
A review of the bills working their way through the Legislature confirms that this could be the most anti-public education Legislature New Hampshire has ever seen. Three destructive bills are scheduled for votes on the House floor on Wednesday 2/8/12: HB 1692 to abolish the University System office and HB 1413 and HB 1517 which opt NH out of No Child Left Behind, at a cost to New Hampshire Public Schools of $61 million per year.
Here the agenda of over 20 bills that comprise a tsunami of legislative damage to New Hampshire's highly rated public schools.
Reducing funding for public education
HB 1607 and SB 372, creating a school voucher program, are the keystone legislation of the session. These companion bills would give a 90% tax credit to businesses that fund school vouchers and off-set that cost with funds taken back from the local school districts. This is a large and complex program undergoing daily revision as the leadership pushes it through. If passed, it would cost state government and the school districts tens of millions of dollars every year and move many thousands of children from public schools to private, religious and home schools.
The Department of Revenue Administration staff testifying on Feb 2 to the House Ways and Means subcommittee on the voucher program said they could not begin to estimate DRA's cost for administering the program.
Rep. Ober, the Vice-Chair of the House Finance Committee, said at the same Feb 2 subcommittee meeting that the bill would add cost at a time when leadership was committed to not spending money. She went on to say that she was significantly concerned about what this bill would do the the local school districts. Video here.
But there is great pressure to move the bill along, even it its unfinished state. The next House Ways and Means Subcommittee meeting is at 10:00 AM on 2/13/12. The continuation of the Senate Education Committee public hearing is at 2:00 PM, 2/14/12.
HB 1413 and HB 1517 would both opt NH out of NCLB, at a cost of $61 million and would do great damage to New Hampshire public education. Both of these bills have been passed Ought to Pass out of the House Education Committee and are scheduled for a vote on the House floor on Wednesday, 2/8/12.
HB 1473, adjusting the adequacy formula, further reduces fundamental state support for public education. When the current legislature took over last year, the key figure driving state support for education, the adequacy cost, was $921,443,751. The Legislature immediately cut $152 million in state aid to school districts each year. If HB 1473 passes, adequacy cost will be reduced to $641,354,022, 30% less than when this Legislature arrived. The Special Committee on Education Funding Reform held its public hearing on this bill on 1/6/12 and a work session on 2/3/12. There are currently no further meetings scheduled.
CACR 8 makes state funding of public schools optional: "The several political subdivisions... shall make adequate provision at their own expense for their schools, provided that the Legislature may supplement that provision in the manner and degree that the Legislature finds most beneficial to the general good. " The public hearing in the House Education Committee will be at 1:00 PM. 2/16/12. The executive session will be at 10:00 AM, 2/21/12.
CACR 12 alters the state obligation to fund public education. It passed the House in the last session 252-113. The Senate Internal Affairs amended the bill and voted Ought to Pass on 2/1/12. It is on the Senate calendar for 2/8/12.
HB 1692 proposes to do away with the University System. Voted out of House Education Committee, 2/2/12, Ought to Pass, 12-4. Scheduled for House floor vote 2/8/12. In the last session, the Legislature cut $50 million from the New Hampshire University System.
Dismantling compulsory attendance
Having failed to abolish compulsory attendance (HB 595), lower the high school dropout age (HB 429) or end kindergarten (HB 631) last year, the Legislature continues in 2012 to try to dismantle the compulsory attendance in other ways.
HB 1382 requires a warrant or permission of a parent to return a truant child to school and the parent's approval of an alternative learning plan for a child. This bill would go far to eliminate compulsory attendance. The public hearing in the House Education Committee was held on 2/2/12. The executive session will be on 2/9/12
HB1167 would repeal the 180 day school year. The public hearing in the House Education Committee was on 1/26/12 and the executive session will be on 2/14/12.
HB 1162 would establish a committee to study the effects of compulsory attendance on children and families. It was voted out of the Education Committee, Inexpedient to Legislate, 14-2 on 2/2
Exerting legislative control over the school curriculum
HB 1712 would mandate that every school district in New Hampshire offer an elective course on the Bible. The public hearing in the House Education Committee was 2/2/12. The sole sponsor is Rep. Bergevin (R-Manchester), who did not seem to understand the bill or the materials he had submitted in support of it. This appears to be one of the many examples of legislation brought by political or religious groups hoping to take advantage of New Hampshire's citizen-legislature. The executive session is scheduled for 2/21/12.
HB 1148 would require evolution to be taught as a theory in public schools. The sponsor is Rep. Bergevin again. The public hearing before the House Education Committee is at 11:00 AM on 2/14/12. The executive session is at 10:00 AM on 2/16/12.
HB 1516 requires a specific number of hours per day of English and mathematics instruction for pupils in kindergarten through grade 3. The sole sponsor is chair of the House Education Committee. The public hearing was on 1/31/12. The 2/2/12 executive session to vote on the bill was cancelled and Chairman Balboni instead named a subcommittee, which will hold a work session on 2/7/12.
The passage of HB 542, which enables a parent to object to the child's curriculum on any basis and negotiate with the school for an alternative, made the New Hampshire Legislature an object of derision nationally (see Live Free, Die Dumb: The War on Education in New Hampshire). The follow-on bill, HB 1575 was ITL in the Education Committee, 16-1.
HB 1424 prohibits a school district from requiring that parents send their children to any school or school program or curriculum to which they are conscientiously opposed. This is a one sentence bill: "No school district shall compel a parent to send his or her child to any school or program to which he or she may be conscientiously opposed nor shall a school district approve or disapprove a parent’s education program or curriculum." This bill is essentially the same as the original version of HB 542 and was supported by the House Education Committee, 11-6, in that form last year. It then passed the House, 197-148, before being modified in the Senate to its final form. The public hearing on HB 1424 before the House Education Committee is at 1:00 PM, 2/7/12. The executive session is 10:00 AM, 2/21/12
HB 1457 is another one sentence bill seeking to require a specific approach to teaching scientific inquiry: "Require science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes." The public hearing is at 11:00 AM on 2/9/2012. The executive session is 2/16/12 at 10:00 AM.
HB 1403 would allow a parent to withdraw a child from a school that adopts the international baccalaureate program. The public hearing in the House Education Committee was on1/26/12. The executive session will be at 1:00PM on 2/14/12.
Dismantling the New Hampshire Department of Education
HB 219, passed by the House on 1/5/12, 214-110, and has not yet been taken up by the Senate. It would prohibit the state Board of Education from passing any rule other than those needed to meet minimum federal standards without a vote of both houses of the legislature.
HB 1713 abolishes the New Hampshire Department of Education, The public hearing in the House Education Committee was on 2/2/12. The executive session will be on at 10:00 AM on 2/21/12.
HB 1571 removes the authority of the Department of Education to monitor achievement of home schooled students. The public hearing in the House Education Committee was on 1/25/12. The bill was amended slightly and passed out of the House Education Committee with an OTP recommendation on 2/2/12.
HB 1360 allocates all Department of Education rule making authority to the House and Senate Education Committees. The bill was amended in the House Education Committee and passed the House on 2/1/12, 238-88. The Senate has taken no action.
HB 545, giving the home education advisory council final approval authority over home schooling rules. The bill was amended and passed out of the Education Committee, OTP, 13-1, on 10/21/11. Scheduled for a house vote on 2/8/12