Launch of the 2018 Legislative Session In the natural world, many creatures around us are hunkering down for the winter season and going into hibernation. The Legislature, however, is not governed by ‘Mother Nature’ and since October, the pace of activity in the State House has picked up, with hearings and the election of a new Speaker. Now, as we enter into the Holiday season, the Legislature stands of the cusp of the 2018 session, with our first session scheduled to convene on January 3, 2018. It promises to be a busy session, with hundreds of bills proposed in the House and the Senate, each one assured of a public hearing and a vote in either or both the House and Senate. So it is time to muster your energies and your patience—the 2018 Legislative session is nearly upon us!
Over the past two months, the House and Senate have been increasingly busy, with committees taking up bills retained by them from the 2017 session. Hearings have been held, and these ‘retained bills’ have now been reported out of the committee with recommendations for floor action. With a new Speaker (Gene Chandler) in the chair, the first task of the House this January will be to take up the retained bills from the 2017 session, and all indications are that Speaker Chandler would like all retained bills and business concluded quickly and expeditiously. What this means is that the House will be busy on Wednesday and Thursday after New Year’s (January 3 & 4) and possibly Tuesday, January 9. The aim is to clear away all retained bills, then begin scheduling committee hearings on 2018 bills.
There are two retained bills of immediate concern to AFT-NH. The first is HB 413, which over 100 Republicans joined with Democrats in passing back in February 2017. The bill provides for partial restoration of State payments (15%) into the NH Retirement System on behalf of counties, municipalities and school districts, all of whom joined the NH Retirement System with a promise of a State contribution of between 25% to 40%. In 2011, under Speaker O’Brien, the State completely abandoned all payments and for the last six years, localities and employees have borne the entire cost of paying into the retirement system. HB 413 simply tries to begin restoring the State’s promised commitment, thereby easing the property tax burden upon local taxpayers and freeing up monies in cash-strapped cities, towns and school districts. The bill has now come out of the House Finance Committee with a party-line recommendation that it be killed, thereby reversing the House position of a year ago, and contradicting one of the recommendations of the Decennial Commission appointed this past summer to study and make recommendations regarding the NH Retirement System. Rather than foolishly cut business taxes and create a hole in future NH state budgets, it is time to hold the Legislature accountable and demand that they begin honoring the promise to pay the State’s share into the NH Retirement System.
Defeat SB 193 (school vouchers) Action Needed! The other retained bill of great concern is SB 193, the “school voucher” bill. Significantly amended in the Education Committee and sent to the House floor by a narrow 10-9 vote, the bill still suffers from the reality that you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. From the start, the proposal uses a legal subterfuge to disguise vouchers as educational savings accounts, and things only go downhill from there. As students withdraw from public schools and take State education aid with them, school districts will lose thousands of dollars, monies to be made up by local taxpayers. Remember, if you lose 1 student from each grade, that is approximately $40,000 lost to the district, but you can’t combine classes and grades, services still need to be provided, buildings heated, on and on. SB 193 now claims that at a specific threshold the Legislature will step in and pass appropriations to make up for excessive losses due to vouchers. Really? Look at the history behind HB 413 (see above) and inadequate state education funding to get an idea of the Legislature’s woeful track record in terms of fulfilling such promises.
Will you contact your state representative now and ask them to defeat SB 193? Click here now!
The amended SB 193 also claims to put certain criteria in place to determine eligibility, but the language adopted basically leaves eligibility wide open. Accountability? Virtually none. Private and religious schools will still fall under virtually no serious state regulations and will be free to discriminate against and reject those they deem unworthy or too costly to educate. Home schoolers are now up in arms over increased regulation via SB193, but in fact, the regulation is quite minimal and there will be no effective accountability or transparency regarding how public funds are spent.
Do you believe public funds should support public education? If so, please click this link to contact your state representative and ask them to defeat SB 193. Click Here Now!
Finally, one must confront the question of “Choice for whom?” SB 193 is a public funds giveaway, often bestowed upon those who can already afford private schooling or home schooling, or who live in areas where such schools are available and accessible. It contradicts the basic logic of public schooling– that an educated citizenry is a desired social and political goal, and therefore we all contribute to it, regardless of whether we have children in the schools. Parents may choose to send their children elsewhere or educate them at home, but they are still members of our larger body politic and must equally bear the basic burdens deemed essential and desirable, such as public education. They may choose alternative pathways, but they should not receive public subsidies to do so. Just because I choose not to drive on your road, I still pay my taxes to help to plow it in winter, and just because you choose to live on it, does not entitle you to a special subsidy from public funds.
We need all your help in passing HB 413 and defeating SB 193. We will shortly be sending out another message regarding HB 413 so you can contact your representative directly and ask them to support passage of this bill which will provide some much needed relief to local communities.
Please make sure to contact your state representative and ask them to defeat this unprecedented attack on the more than 180,000 children who attend NH public schools. Click Here Now!
AFT-NH is #PublicSchoolProud and we ask you to join in this effort to protect our public schools.