Sources tell NHJournal the GOP-backed Education Freedom Account legislation may not get a favorable recommendation from the Education Committee, a sign of trouble ahead for this much-debated bill.
The Committee, made up of 11 Republicans and 9 Democrats, is scheduled to vote on Wednesday, and sources say Rep. James Allard (R-Pittsfield) may vote against the bill. With a no vote from Allard, the best case is a 10-10 split in committee, which means the bill could come to the House floor with no recommendation.
“We still have several days to research and consider this significant issue,” Allard told NHJournal in an email. The Pittsfield Republican did not say what his concerns with the bill are, if any and while he disputed claims he has already decided to vote against the bill, he also declined to commit to supporting it.
Given House Republicans only have a 13-vote majority, there’s not much margin for error.
It’s hard to imagine how the EFA legislation (HB 20) could come with more GOP firepower. The legislation is named the Richard “Dick” Hinch education freedom account (EFA) program, in honor of the House’s popular Speaker who succumbed to COVID-19 just days after getting the job. The bill is now sponsored by Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) and Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem).
Gov. Chris Sununu has been touting the policy for months. In December, he told the Josiah Bartlett Center: “You can sum all this up with: It’s gotta be about outcomes for the kids, not outcomes for the system,” the governor said. “We have to stop worrying about the system as much as the kids.”
Give how much the NHGOP has put on the line, it’s hard to imagine Republicans breaking ranks with their party leadership.
At the same time, any fence-sitting Republicans face fierce union opposition. At Education Committee hearings, opponents of the bill outnumbered supporters 5 to 1, thanks to organization efforts by the state’s teachers unions.
Nobody will accuse the unions of being overly subtle in their attacks. On their Twitter feed Thursday, they touted their ability to organize opposition (“HB20 was opposed 5,218-1,107 at today’s hearing”) and made claims that even the most ardent union member would find difficult to embrace.
“Public schools are fiscally responsible and spend their money more wisely than private schools because ALL spending decisions happen in public view,” the NEA-NH tweeted.
With well-funded and well-organized opposition, the question now is whether the NHGOP leadership can keep their caucus together. In 2017 and 2018, the measure failed – more than once – and with a more significant Republican majority.
One weapon EFA supporters have is Sununu. His budget reads like a future resume for a candidate seeking higher office, and he’s made education reform a priority. He touted “educational opportunities” and told voters that in New Hampshire, “we’re not satisfied with the old way of doing things.”
“As the only governor in the last 20 years to come up through the public school system, I know how great that system is,” Sununu said. He also gave a subtle shout-out to his Education Commissioner, Frank Edelblut, saying that “over the last four years, New Hampshire has been innovative in how we’ve created educational opportunities for our kids.”
In January, Governor Sununu renominated Edelblut to a second term as Commissioner, much to the dismay of Democrats.
“We challenge ourselves to think differently,” Sununu also said, noting that we need to “build new pathways to get better results for the students. In the end, that’s all that matters. Better results for the students. It’s about outcomes.”