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AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin 6-9-17: School Vouchers And The NH Budget

Bow, NH – June 9, 2017

Slowly, ever slowly, the 2017 legislative session crawls towards its June 22 conclusion. Yesterday, the House and Senate both met in session, though for the House, it was certainly the shortest meeting of 2017, not even lasting one hour. The primary, in fact the only order of business, was to consider reports from the Senate. These are when the Senate has amended a bill that originated in and passed the House, and now it gets sent back to the House for further consideration. The choices are simple. First, the House can concur/accept the Senate’s amendment, meaning the bill is now passed and sent to the governor. The second choice is to simply non-concur/reject the Senate’s amendment and thereby kill the bill. The third option is to request a Committee of Conference, wherein the House and Senate each appoint conferees who meet and try to reach agreement on the bill. All Committees of Conference must finish their work by June 15, and then the House and Senate will vote on June 22 to accept or reject those Conference reports where agreement was reached. And that, folks, should be the end of the session, until the legislative process starts to wind up again in September.

The House quickly disposed of the bills acted upon by the Senate today, and now the Committees of Conference are organized and underway, with the most important being those dealing with the Senate’s budget proposal, the Senate’s version of the NH capital budget, and the so-called “trailer bill.” This last is often the most interesting, for it is here that statutory changes are made to accommodate the provisions of the State budget, but often other sorts of items have a tendency to “sneak in.” Everyone in the media will be closely watching what happens in these Committees of Conference over the next week. Many House Republicans want deeper budget cuts than Senate Republicans and larger cuts in business taxes, so the real battle will be an intra-party battle amongst Republicans. The minority Democrats are certainly not pleased with the Senate’s budget, and will look for openings to push their own agenda items (for example, limiting business tax cuts, more spending on opioid crisis, no punitive legislation directed at Planned Parenthood and limiting women’s health choices). So the battle will rage on, though largely in Committees of Conference and in behind-the-scenes negotiations, so we will just need to wait and see.

School Voucher Bill   With the House session ending very early, the House Education Committee used the free time to hold a work session on SB 193, the voucher bill. This bill would rob public education in order to fund private education via the use of vouchers or education savings accounts. The bill has been retained by the committee for 2017 but will need to be acted upon in 2018. Today, representatives from both parties raised the same concerns as before, focusing upon the lack of any accountability regarding effectiveness of private schools, the role played by public funding of religious schools, and the overall constitutionality of using public funds to pay for private education. Other issues raised included whether private schools could be required to accept students with special educational needs or conversely, whether such schools would be allowed to set their own academic standards for admission? And then there are the cost issues—what sorts of cost controls would exist regarding private schools, how would the decline in funding for public education be met (if one student in each grade leaves for private schooling, you can’t really cut any staff but the public school would lose significant funding). There is even the question of what happens if a parent enrolls their child in a private school, takes the money, and then at some point in the year, transfers their child back to the public school—what happens to the money expended? These and many other crucial questions still swirl around SB 193, but above all else, there is the question of “Choice for whom?” Who is privileged and in the best position to take advantage of this giveaway of taxpayer money? Is this fair? Did not sound like it when one Republican representative blurted out that monies spent on educating “black children and Latinos” could be put to better use funding the SB 193 giveaway.

In the end the Committee made no further progress and will take up SB 193 again in September 2017. For now, the bill remains a bad piece of legislation. If there are problems in public education, the legislature would make better use of its time trying to resolve those problems, rather than taking money from public education and showering it upon those best positioned to send their children to private schools. Not much fairness and equity there!

 

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President


The bulletin is also available in PDF if you would like to download and share.

AFT-NH LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN June 9, 2017

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin 4-28-17: Edeblut Watch, Vouchers, And Shame In The NH House

April 28, 2017  

On the surface, there was not much activity in the State House this past week, as the House did not meet in session, while the Senate met briefly and considered only a small number of bills. One quiet action taken by the Senate was to return back to the Committee on Education the so-called Croydon bill, HB 557. This bill would permit local school boards to use public funds to send students to private, non-sectarian schools, rather than funding a public school or agreeing to send students to a neighboring public school. For example, if a town lacks a public middle school, it can currently arrange to send students to a neighboring public middle school, but by the terms of HB557, the district could now use public funds to send students to private schools instead. Keep in mind, private schools do not wish to come under the regulatory burdens already imposed upon public schools, so there is no certainty that with this proposed legislation, that all students would be eligible or accepted, nor that the private school would meet all the same standards as public schools. In other words, it is another attempt to use public education funds for private benefit. Remember also that it was discovered that Education Commissioner Edelblut had donated to the town’s legal fund to fight the NH Department of Education. Read more about Edelblut donation to Croydon at Edelblut Contribution to Croydon. This was not discovered until after Edelblut was confirmed. The fate of the bill is not certain, as it may return to the Senate for a vote at some point during the month of May. We shall keep a watchful eye upon it.

Edelblut Watch The other major news out of the Senate was the defeat of Commissioner of Education Edelblut’s attempted power grab and consolidation of his control over the Department of Education. Edelblut, who repeatedly claimed in his confirmation hearings that he would be a mere administrator and not a policymaker as Commissioner, has acted in complete reversal of his claims. He vocally advocates vouchers and working with Senator Reagan, sought authority to reorganize the Department of Education and consolidate power in his hands, in terms of budgets and personnel. After a public hearing that occasionally turned rancorous, with Senator Reagan nearly badgering witnesses hostile to his pro-Edelblut stance, the Committee rejected the pro-Edelblut amendment and instead of handing him the keys to the entire department, voted to make small changes and authorize further study of the issue. This is what we in the Legislature term a polite form of legislative death, but the public needs to continue to weigh in and press the Senate to uphold the actions of the Education Committee. Rest assured, Commissioner Edelblut will be back, as he seeks to reshape the education landscape in New Hampshire by undermining public education.

Public Education Victories  The House did not meet in session this week, but on Tuesday, April 25, proponents of public education won two significant victories in the House Education Committee. Not only did the committee vote to support funding full-day kindergarten, but in a show of bipartisanship, nearly all members of the committee supported full-funding, not just funding aimed at targeted or poorer towns as was advocated by Governor Sununu. The bill now goes to the House floor for a vote this coming Thursday, and if it passes, will go to the Finance Committee to handle the funding and inclusion within the State budget. Following this action, the committee then voted overwhelmingly to “retain” SB193, the voucher bill that would decimate funding for public education, raise local property taxes, and funnel public funds to private and religious schools. By taking this action, the committee killed further consideration of vouchers for 2017, but we fully expect some slimmed-down version of SB193 to rear its ugly head in 2018, in an attempt to get some sort of voucher system established and get the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent.” As I have noted before, it is always fascinating to observe how those who demand strict accountability and transparency when dealing with social programs aiding the less fortunate suddenly abandon any concerns about accountability or transparency when it comes to using public funds to help wealthier families send their children to private/sectarian schools or who choose to home-school. In those cases, a simple confidence that “parents always know best” is sufficient—no need for anything more!

Education Bills The House meets on May 4th and will consider SB 191-FN, the full-day kindergarten funding bill. The bill was amended by the House Education Committee to include funding for full-day kindergarten. House approval would be the next critical step before proceeding to House Finance. Two other education bills on the consent calendar are SB 45, regarding the state’s expectations concerning the teaching of civics and SB 101-FN, enrollment eligibility for career and technical education programs. SB 101-FN seeks to allow high school students after one year of high school, to enroll in these programs and establishes a statewide dual and concurrent enrollment system and allow 11th and 12th grade students to enroll in and complete post-secondary college credit in STEM courses.

Shameful   Finally, this week has seen another embarrassing moment for the NH House, with the outing of State Representative Robert Fisher as creator and contributor to a misogynistic and vile discussion site supposedly defending men’s rights. You can read the complete investigative report at the Daily Beast. A Republican state representative from Belknap, District 9 (Laconia and Belmont), Fisher’s contributions to public discourse apparently include claims that rape is not entirely bad, since the rapist may enjoy the act, women are intellectual inferiors to men, and the value of women essentially expires after age 30. Despite calls for his resignation from Gov. Sununu, Speaker Jasper, House Minority Leader Shurtleff, among others, as of today Fisher refuses to do so. So this is how one advocates for family values? Shame!

Your continued hard work on all of these important issues is critical to our successes. Thank you for your efforts.

 

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

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