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New Hampshire Blows Opportunity to Become Nation’s Leader on Education

In New Hampshire, it’s déjà vu all over again. The House Education Committee just voted to retain Senate Bill 193, which would have established a universal education savings account (ESA) program in the state. The “Education Freedom Savings Accounts” would have granted parents of public school and homeschool students access to 90 percent of their child’s state public education funding and up to 50 percent for kindergarten students to spend on educational alternatives, such as private school tuition, homeschool textbooks, tutoring services, and learning therapies.

The Democrats in the New Hampshire House pulled out the tired, old, baseless arguments liberals of the education establishment have been using for years: “Our New Hampshire Constitution is clear that private funds cannot be used for sectarian purposes,” state Rep. Mary Heath (D-Hillsborough) said. “This bill undermines public education.”

“Rep. Tamara Le, D-North Hampton, said she was concerned that the bill could siphon between $75 million and $100 million away from the public school system,” the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.

Unfortunately for New Hampshire families, representatives of the “Live Free or Die” state would rather watch children’s educations be destroyed under the greedy guidance of the teachers unions who control them than give students access to a variety of educational choices.

The claims made by public-education advocates are no more accurate than their so-called “concern for the children” is believable. State supreme courts have ruled in Arizona and Nevada Blaine amendments—provisions borne out of anti-Catholic bigotry of the late 19th century that prohibit public money from funding “sectarian” institutions—do not make ESAs unconstitutional, because it’s the parents who sometimes choose to spend the money on religious schools, not the state.

EdChoice reports, “Public data show that states and cities typically increase their per-student spending in the years following school choice programs’ inception.” For example, EdChoice found Milwaukee public schools increased per-student funding by more than $5,000 from 1992 to 2011, even though the city instituted a school choice program in 1990 that many supporters of the education status quo said would cripple public education.

Rep. Heath should be aware of the precedent set most recently and dramatically in Nevada, and Rep. Le should know the “school choice drains public school funding” narrative is a myth. These legislators are either shamefully ignorant and/or misinformed or they’re simply choosing to ignore the facts. Either way, lawmakers who deny reality in favor of their special interests are unqualified to tell parents they have no right to customize their child’s education to fit their needs.

New Hampshire had the opportunity to pave the way for the nation, to show what living free in the spirit of the American way truly means. But the power of the teachers unions and the control they have over Democrats (93 percent of the $33.2 million teachers unions gave directly to politicians during the 2016 election went to Democrats) was too much for the legislature this time around, and children in the state will continue to suffer in failing public schools because of it.

The good news is that not everyone is taking the Blaine blame game sitting down. The U.S. Supreme Court is in the midst of hearing arguments in a case that could undermine one of the biggest weapons in the pro-public-school people’s arsenal. Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, alleges its application for a state grant to replace its playground’s gravel surface with scrap tire that’s friendlier to kids’ knees was denied because it’s a religious institution. Trinity Lutheran says the state constitution’s Blaine amendment is standing in the way of a safer playground, and recent reports covering the debates held before the U.S. Supreme Court suggest a majority of the nine justices agree.

It appears there’s momentum to rid the country of the bigoted Blaine amendments at last and move real education choice one step closer to actuality. Let’s hope New Hampshire children don’t have to wait much longer to get access to the educational resources Heath and Le believe they don’t deserve.

One of Gov. Sununu’s Education Priorities Passed Favorably Out of Committee

In a victory for New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, the House Education Committee voted favorably for a bill that would increase state funding for full-day kindergarten. However, a school choice bill was killed for the rest of year.

Sununu has called himself a “believer in school choice,” but had some reservations about Senate Bill 193, which would establish education freedom savings accounts for parents to use taxpayer funds and turn them into personal “scholarships” for students.

The measure would have allowed parents to use the approximately $3,500 that schools receive per student and put the money for tuition in private or religious schools, pay for the costs of homeschooling, or even for supplies to tutor their children. It’s similar to the typical voucher program in other states, but the New Hampshire bill allows parents to use the funds for multiple educational opportunities that they want for their child.

Opponents don’t want taxpayer funds to be diverted from public schools. They also say the program would unconstitutionally provide taxpayer dollars to religious schools. Supporters argue the bill gives parents more options for their students.

The House Education Committee sidetracked the bill Tuesday and voted 15-4 to retain it in committee to study further, essentially killing the bill until 2018.

“There are a lot of aspects to this bill which I think we really need to drill down,” said Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, chairman of the committee.

The bill previously passed the Senate on a 14-9 vote in March.

Rep. Mary Heath, D-Manchester, said “this bill undermines public education.”

“Our New Hampshire Constitution is clear that public funds cannot be used for sectarian purposes,” she added. “We have failed to fund our public schools in the manner in which we should fund them. To move to this process would undermine what we have stood for.”

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, was the author of the bill, and he told reporters after the vote that retaining the bill was due to the result of special interest groups, specifically the unions, who blocked his legislation. He said it was a loss for the students of New Hampshire.

Yet, the bill had bipartisan support in its defeat with several Republican lawmakers saying they wanted to draft a better version of the bill that has a chance of passing in the Legislature.

Rep. Dan Wolf, R-Newbury, said retaining a bill in committee is equivalent to “death with dignity. So let’s hope that this is death with dignity.”

Despite supporting school choice, Sununu raised questions last week about how the legislation could impact public schools.

“I think when it comes to using state money for schools, and I think a lot of people know I’m a big believer in school choice, that whatever we do, we have to make sure we’re not harming public schools,” he told New Hampshire Public Radio. “We’re not just removing funds out of those schools and we understand that as we move money around, what those pros and cons might be. I do have concerns when you start using state funds, whether it be a voucher program, or all the different terms that you want to put for it, to schools of a non-public nature.”



At the same committee hearing, on a 15-4 vote, representatives passed Senate Bill 191, which would increase funding for full-day kindergarten, a priority Sununu has pushed this legislative session.

Sununu made a rare appearance before the committee last week, urging the House committee to approve the Senate bill, which was modeled after his original proposal.

In his budget proposal, Sununu called for $9 million-a-year to be given out in grants to the communities with high levels of low-income students and English language learners that wanted to opt for full-day kindergarten programs instead of half-day. The Senate approved of that plan in March on a 21-2 vote.

The House Education Committee voted to amend the bill, recommending that the House fund full-day kindergarten for all communities, regardless of need, that wanted to expand their kindergarten programs. They also voted to increase the cost to approximately $14.5 million per year, which was the same amount that Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, proposed in the first draft of the bill in the Senate.

“Today’s actions are a significant step forward for New Hampshire,” Sununu said in a statement. “Full-day kindergarten is good for children, families, and a critical tool in retaining our workforce.”

The bill will be taken up by the full House next week. If passed, it would be sent to the House Finance Committee for review, before returning to the House for a final vote.

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Dem Rep. Says Parental Notification Bill Shrinks Importance of Sex Education

Some New Hampshire Democrats believe a bill that would require school districts to provide parents at least two weeks’ notice about material related to human sexuality is overstepping the state’s role in local education.

“My concern is that it mandates a two-week notice,” said Rep. Mary Heath, D-Manchester. “The biggest problem is that this will not solve the problem. Every school principal needs to talk with their teachers about the importance of parent communication. It should be a local matter as to how that policy is developed based on the school and [grade] level.”

Rep. Victoria Sullivan, R-Manchester, is the prime sponsor of the bill (House Bill 103) and she introduced it after her 8-year-old son said he watched a video at school that depicted a young boy being sexually abused by his uncle and confronting his abuser alone.

Sullivan said the bill would “simply give parents more control and a stronger voice.”

“Local control begins with the parents and the taxpayers,” she told NH Journal. “We have seen parents pushed further and further out of the conversation when it comes to education.”

This isn’t the first time this bill has been in the Legislature. Former Gov. Maggie Hassan previously vetoed the legislation in 2015. It was then reintroduced in the House in 2016, but ultimately failed in the Senate.

State law already allows parents or legal guardians to have a say if they believe that material put in front of their children by schools is objectionable. They would need to notify the school principal in writing of the material they object to and then the student can participate in an “alternative agreed upon” curriculum by the school district and the parent that still meets state requirements for education in that subject area.

Heath said the two-week parental notification is unnecessary because parents can already “opt out” their student if they find any curriculum to be questionable, and the bill undermines the importance of sexual education in schools.

“Good communication with parents is essential,” she told NH Journal. “At the same time, some parents and especially those to the ‘far right’ don’t believe their children should learn anything beyond the ‘basics.’ I understand that, hence the ‘opt out’ [option]. However, House Bill 103 sends the wrong message about the importance of comprehensive sexuality education.”

The national Republican Party platform includes a section on the importance of returning control of public education to the states, school districts, and parents of students. In regards to sexual education, they call for a replacement of “family planning programs.”

“We renew our call for replacing ‘family planning’ programs for teens with sexual risk avoidance education that sets abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior,” the platform states.

The New Hampshire Republican Party platform does not include anything about sexual education.

Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia require school districts to allow parental involvement in sexual education programs. Three states — Arizona, Nevada, and Utah — require parental consent before a child can receive instruction.

The bill will now head to the Senate Education Committee to debate the bill and with Republican Gov. Chris Sununu in the corner office, it’s possible that he would sign the legislation into law. He has not indicated if he supports the bill yet.


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