House Republicans used their slim majority on Thursday to claim big wins for their education reform agenda. They turned back Democrat efforts to repeal the state’s anti-discrimination law and to limit access to popular Education Freedom Accounts.

The House voted 192-183 to “indefinitely postpone” consideration of HB 1298, which would have overturned the Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education passed in 2021. The law prohibits government employees, including public school teachers, from teaching or training that any group is superior or inferior to others.

(The text of the anti-discrimination law is here.)

The legislation was passed in reaction to schools in Manchester, Laconia, and Litchfield using race-based critical race theory content.

State Rep. Peter Petrigno (D-Milford), who sponsored the repeal legislation, denounced the anti-discrimination law as an “insult to public school teachers” that “gives cover to those who hate and are discriminatory.”

“Not everyone who agrees with this law is a racist, but everyone who is a racist supports this law,” Petrigno said, drawing groans from his Republican colleagues.

He also claimed, despite the published record, that no school districts ever used materials that violated the anti-discrimination law.

Rep. Damond Ford (D-Manchester) echoed his assertion. In response to NHJournal’s reporting, he demanded on social media that the news outlet “Please share the NH County in which CRT was being taught? You can’t. You won’t.”

When NHJournal posted a news story with specific examples and screen captures answering Ford’s query, he responded:

“Very you of you to post again the a$$hole of an article about CRT being taught in our schools. Also, the author of the article can suck on a canvas bag full of loose horse testicles.”

Megan Tuttle, the National Education Association’s New Hampshire chapter president, claimed in a statement that the law has a “chilling effect” on public school teachers. Tuttle also hinted at future legal challenges.

“While we are disappointed in this vote, NEA-New Hampshire is committed to continuing the fight to repeal this egregious law so that Granite State students can be guaranteed the right to an honest education,” she said.

NHJournal has repeatedly asked Tuttle to present an example of classroom-appropriate instruction that is banned by the anti-discrimination law. She has declined to respond.

After the vote, the House GOP Caucus released a statement attacking Democratic support for the failed legislation.

“House Democrats just voted for a bill to repeal your freedom from discrimination at work, at school, or from the government,” the statement read. “You heard that right… Democrats have voted to turn a blind eye to blatant discrimination based on sex, gender, orientation, race, creed, and more.”

Before the vote, Rep. Alicia Lekas (R-Hudson) read into the record a letter she said she had received from a “person of color.”

“It is my experience that DEI should instead be listed as division, exclusion, and indoctrination,” the author wrote, according to Lekas.

Republicans also rebuffed Democrats’ efforts to restrict spending on the popular Education Freedom Accounts program. It allows families to use the state portion of a student’s funding to choose an educational alternative.

Critics of the program claim it’s costing far more than supporters projected when the law was passed. HB 1512 would limit spending to $19.8 million in fiscal year 2024 “and in subsequent fiscal years shall not exceed the amounts appropriated for such purpose in the biennial state operating budget.”

State Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro), an EFA supporter, called initial budgeting “just an estimate of the number of kids who make a choice to enroll in the program.”

“This is different than public schools that have a ZIP Code-locked population,” he added. “Maybe we should hold public schools to a budgeted amount, too.”

State Rep. Mel Myler (D-Contoocook) derided the current setup as “an open checkbook.”

“There is no restraint,” he said. “This is not a minor expense to the state. Frankly, the Department of Education needs to do a better job projecting the amounts.”

The average EFA account grant in New Hampshire is $5,255, roughly a quarter of what it costs taxpayers for per public school student.

“This is not Common Core math,” Cordelli quipped in response.

Because far more parents have chosen to use the program than originally projected, the costs have been higher. Supporters note the EFA spending is a tiny sliver of the $3.1 billion New Hampshire taxpayers spend on K-12 public education.

Mitchell Scacchi of the free-market Josiah Bartlett Center notes that because nearly 5,000 students are currently enrolled in the EFA program, which costs around $22 million, the bill “would forcibly revoke EFAs from some children who currently have them.”

Schacchi also points out that EFA’s actually save local public schools money because, while the state’s portion of a student’s funding follows them to other education options, the remaining two-thirds or so of the per-pupil spending stays behind.

“Every student who moves from an EFA back to their assigned public school costs taxpayers more money, not less.”

The vote to “indefinitely postpone” the Democratic proposal squeaked by with just a two-vote margin, 187-185.

Democrats did manage to muster a victory Thursday after the House passed so-called “Freedom to Read” legislation, 194-180. The proposal directs local school boards to adopt a “transparent” process for adding or removing public school library materials. The policy would bar the removal of controversial books “on the basis of viewpoint” or the basis of the author or subject, such as their sex, gender identity, or race.

“This all sounds wonderful until you look more deeply into what this bill really does,” state Rep. Arlene Quaratiello (R-Atkinson) said. “This would protect a blind author’s feelings on the joys of pedophilia based on his physical disability.”

State Rep. David Paige (D-Conway) countered that the proposed policy “is not a Republican or Democrat issue — it’s a First Amendment issue.”

HB 1311 is a bipartisan, commonsense bill which takes a balanced approach in upholding all of these shared goals,” he added.

Quaratiello later denounced the usage of the phrase “book ban.”

“Let’s stop calling the removal of every book from a library a ‘book ban,’” she said. “This term is misused. Removing a book from the relatively small collection in public school libraries does not prevent anyone from getting that book somewhere else.”