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NH Teachers Union Sues to Stop Popular EFA Program

A New Hampshire’s teachers’ union is going to court to stop the state’s popular Education Freedom Account (EFA) program that some families use to escape failing public schools. The move comes as data show traditional public school enrollment falling while the number of students choosing charter schools and other alternatives is rising.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced Thursday it filed a lawsuit against Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut in the Merrimack Superior Court in Concord challenging New Hampshire’s EFA program. The complaint argues the program violates the New Hampshire Constitution and state law by using state lottery dollars and money from the Education Trust Fund to fund the EFAs.

“The state specifically earmarked this money for public education. Instead, the state is stealing from public school students in plain sight to pay for its private voucher program,” said Deb Howes, president of the AFT-NH, who brought the suit “as a citizen taxpayer,” according to an AFT press release.

Families earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level can use the EFA program to take their share of state per pupil funding – about $5,000 a year — and use it for alternatives to public school, like private school, homeschooling or tutoring. The public school they leave behind keeps its portion of local per-pupil funding, which can range from $10,000 to $20,000 or more.

EFA expenses must be approved by the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF), a private scholarship organization that oversees the program. In September CSF reported that families of more than 3,000 New Hampshire children completed EFA applications, up from more than 2,000 children who used EFAs in 2021-22.

“It underscores a growing demand from Granite State parents for educational alternatives,” CSF reports.

The national AFT’s controversial union president Randi Weingarten weighed in Thursday on behalf of the lawsuit. “New Hampshire can’t fund its voucher program by illegally putting its hand in the taxpayer cookie jar that’s intended for public school students,” Weingarten said. “It’s as simple as this: No matter what program the state wants to fund, it has to do it legally.”

The complaint is based on the premise that EFAs are illegal because the state constitution says “all moneys received from a state-run lottery [shall] be appropriated and used exclusively for the school districts of the state… and shall not be transferred or diverted to any other purpose.”

But supporters respond that EFA spending has been authorized by the legislature and that revenue from sources other than the lottery go to funding k-12 education. Since money is fungible, there’s plenty of revenue to pay for the EFA program without using lottery dollars.

“This lawsuit appears to be without merit,” said  Jason Bedrick, Research Fellow at the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation. “The Education Trust Fund has long been used for purposes beyond school districts, such as to place students with special needs in private schools. The state’s constitutional duty to cherish the interest of education is best fulfilled when all children have access to a wide variety of learning environments. Education Freedom Accounts further that interest.”

Howes claims the EFA program is denying public schools millions in money from the Education Trust Fund.

“Public school students are losing out on millions of dollars that are needed to fix leaky old buildings, purchase and maintain modern computer equipment, buy books and materials published at least in the last decade to support student learning, and provide more social and emotional assistance and other needs that will help students excel,” Howes said.

Representatives for New Hampshire’s Department of Education declined to speak about the lawsuit and instead issued a brief statement.

“The New Hampshire Department of Education is aware of the complaint filed today by Deborah Howes at Merrimack County Superior Court. At this time, the department is not commenting on the pending litigation,” a DOE representative said on behalf of the department.

Kate Baker Demers, the executive director for the Children’s Scholarship Fund NH, which administers the EFA program for the state, said the program gives parents the freedom to make their own educational choices, and is totally in line with the state constitution.

“Empowering parents to make educational decisions for their children does not violate any state law or our New Hampshire constitution,” Baker Demers said.

And, supporters note, parents are free to use the funding to transfer their child to a different public school as well.

“This is a desperate attempt by the union to block families from being able to access a wide variety of education options,” said Bedrick. “Thousands of New Hampshire families are using Education Freedom Accounts to give their children the education that best meets their individual needs. It’s sad to see the union putting their politics ahead of kids’ learning needs.”

Granite Staters Have High Credit Scores and Low Unemployment

Two new reports show Granite Staters are on solid financial footing heading into the holidays compared to the rest of the U.S.

New Hampshire residents have the second highest credit scores on average in the nation according to a data analysis by Wallethub. At the same time, the labor market is improving, with New Hampshire experiencing one of the biggest week-to-week drops in new unemployment claims.

Frugal Yankees in New Hampshire hold an average 719 credit score, second only to Minnesota’s 724, Wallethub reports. The national average is 695, which means most Americans are just below the 700-score considered good credit, according to WalletHub’s findings.

Vermont, Massachusetts, and South Dakota round out the top five with average scores above 700. Alabama at 672, Louisiana at 668, and Mississippi at 662 are the three states with the worst average credit scores.

Patrick A. Cozza, who teaches business at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said the best way to build good credit is to pay your bills on time. Minimizing the use of credit cards is important as well.

“The simple answer again is to manage only the debt you can handle, do not overly subscribe to credit by securing additional credit cards,” Cozza said. “People feel more is better than few, but it could lead to real credit problems down the road if you cannot effectively manage the debt.”

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, with business closures and high unemployment rates, put a lot of people into debt. Those who used credit cards to get by during the pandemic can dig their way out of debt and toward a better credit score, Cozza said.

W.H. “Joe” Knight at Seattle University School of Law said it is important to pay down debt and build savings.

“More Americans are saving more these days because of the fewer opportunities to shop, eat out, etc. Accumulate savings and apply some of those extra ‘saved dollars’ to the largest interest-charging creditor bills,” Knight said. “Slow but sure progress to improving a credit score, reducing the total amount of credit you have outstanding.”

New Hampshire residents are keeping up with their bills, and they are working. The Granite State keeps seeing unemployment rates drop, behind only Kentucky for the most recent unemployment rate report.

The labor market is still experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are more opportunities being created, according to Thomas Kohler at Boston College Law School.

“A large number of Baby Boomers left the workforce during the pandemic while other workers changed jobs, a good example being the hospitality industry,” Kohler said.

With more opportunities for willing workers, the pressure is on employers. Employers who want to find and keep workers have learned they need to increase pay and benefits, given the new realities of the labor market.

“I think it will take some time for the situation to become clearer, but it seems increasingly clear that people are unwilling to perform unpleasant work at poor rates of remuneration with no voice in their working conditions. Hardly surprising, I would say,” Kohler said.

New Hampshire’s 2.4 percent unemployment rate in October was well below the national average of 3.7 percent reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But it was not the lowest in the nation. That honor went to Minnesota and Utah at 2.1 percent each. Vermont and North Dakota at 2.3 percent also edged out the Granite State. Those numbers reflect a tight labor market that some economists say could restrict growth.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, New Hampshire is suffering one of the most severe labor shortages in the nation, with just 44 unemployed workers for every 100 open jobs.

However, Jeffrey Arthur, a Professor of Management at Virginia Tech, said while employees have the upper hand now, the economic tide will turn to favor employers.

“Employees are more likely to feel empowered to form and join labor unions at places like Amazon, Starbucks, and other retailers where they have not been able to do this in the past. Employers are also motivated to provide employees with additional benefits such as tuition reimbursement and flexible work arrangements in order to attract and retain them,” Arthur said. “These changes may be short-lived, however. If the economy slows and unemployment increases, I expect to see the balance of power tilting back to employers. These cycles have happened in the past.”

Timberlane Union Prez Decries Parental Involvement as ‘Interference’

The head of the Timberlane Teachers’ Association says teachers should be able to do their job “without interference from parents,” the latest expression of anti-parent sentiment from teachers unions.

Coral Hampe is a Spanish teacher and head of the teachers union at Timberlane High School in Plaistow, N.H. In a message to legislators opposing HB 1015, she described parental and legal oversight as “interference.”

“Your calling is to the legislature. Others are called to medicine. Teachers are called to teach. Let us do our jobs without interference from parents and laws,” Hampe wrote.

Hampe did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, nor did Timberlane School Board Chair Kimberly Farah. The district and the union are currently involved in contentious contract negotiations. 

The law in question, HB 1015, would allow parents to swap out, at their own cost, any material being taught to their child that they find objectionable. The law would require parents to give the school principal written notice about their objection, and it would have the parents and school administration work together to find appropriate replacement material.

“It is appalling, although not surprising, that a teachers’ union believes they are above the law,” said House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, of the bill’s cosponsors. “They want to indoctrinate our children in the same Marxist theories they hold without any recourse. If teachers were actually teaching the facts and leaving their opinions out of their curriculum, they would have nothing to fear. Clearly, that is not the case in our public schools.”

Teachers unions and their allies have become more open in their rejection of the legitimacy of parental involvement in public education. New Hampshire House Democrats are trying to overturn state education rules preventing schools from going to remote learning with some buy-in from parents.

On Monday, the Warner, N.H. Democratic Party tweeted a political cartoon mocking parents who want to review curricula as Confederate-Flag-wearing Trump supporters. The tweet was forwarded by state Rep. David Meuse (D-Portsmouth) and several other Democratic committees around the state.

 

The Timberlane Teachers’ Association is part of the American Federation of Teachers – New Hampshire. Deb Howes, president of AFT-NH, did not respond to a request for comment. The AFT-NH’s legislative bulletin includes a misleading statement on the proposed law, claiming it is aimed at stopping current events from being taught in the classroom. 

“We cannot think of anything more damaging to our students than removing a teacher’s ability to use current events to emphasize a topic and help our students relate so they can better understand the material. Are teachers supposed to forgo using current events in the classroom?” The bulletin states.

Current events are not mentioned in the text of the law. Instead, it requires teachers to give parents two weeks’ notice on what will be taught to their children, in order to give parents an appropriate amount of time to review material and ask questions.

Osborne said Hampe’s message betrays how out-of-touch the unions have become in public schools.

“In what world could a business live above the law and not have to answer to the very people who fund them, whether it’s a school, a private business, or even the government? I can’t imagine Market Basket would survive much longer if they wanted to sell groceries without interference from customers,” he said.

The AFT-NH, along with the other teachers’ union, the NEA-NH, are suing the state over the new anti-discrimination law that prohibits teaching any one group is superior or inferior by virtue of their race, creed, or sexual orientation. The lawsuits falsely claim that the state law prohibits teaching “divisive concepts.”

Rep. Kimberly Rice (R-Hudson), another co-sponsor of HB 1015, questioned whether or not Hampe’s statement actually speaks for teachers in the Timberlane district.

“I feel like we have parents and educators pitted against each other and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” Rice said.

NH NEA and ACLU Team Up for Another “Banned Concepts” Lawsuit

New Hampshire’s biggest teacher’s union, the National Education Association-NH, and the state chapter of the ACLU have joined forces to combat New Hampshire’s new anti-discrimination law.

Unlike a previously filed lawsuit that used the phrase “divisive concepts” 103 times (a phrase that does not appear anywhere in the law), the lawsuit has updated its language, referring to the law as the “banned concepts” law.

The phrase “banned concepts” does not appear anywhere in the new law, either.

On Monday, the groups announced a new federal lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in Concord against the state’s new anti-discrimination law.

“This unconstitutionally vague law disallows students from receiving the inclusive, complete education they deserve, and from having important conversations on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the classroom,” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire.

Meg Tuttle, the president of New Hampshire’s NEA branch, claimed the law prevents teachers from teaching full facts around controversial subjects.

“Parents and educators agree students should learn complete facts about historical events like slavery and civil rights. They agree that politicians shouldn’t be censoring classroom discussions between students and their teachers and that educators shouldn’t have their licenses and livelihoods put at risk by a vague law,” Tuttle said.

The problem for Bissonnette and Tuttle is the law passed this year does nothing to ban any concept from being taught but instead bans students from being discriminated against. Indeed, the law explicitly states it does not prohibit, “as a larger court of academic instruction,” teaching about this history of racism, sexism, etc. 

“I don’t think there’s any statement of facts (in the lawsuit) they can make other than people’s feelings,” said state Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, one of the legislators behind the bill. “The left created this false image of what the law actually states.”

According to the legal guidance issued to schools by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the New Hampshire Department of Education, the law does nothing to stop any facet of American history from being taught in the classroom.

“Nothing prohibits the teaching of historical subjects including, but not limited to: slavery, treatment of the Native American population, Jim Crow laws, segregation, treatment of women, treatment of LGBTQ+ people, treatment of people with disabilities, treatment of people based on their religion, or the Civil Rights movement. Nor does anything prohibit discussions related to current events including, but not limited to: the Black Lives Matter movement, efforts to promote equality and inclusion, or other contemporary events that impact certain identified groups,” the legal advice from the Attorney General states. 

Instead, the law prohibits students being taught that “a person, because of their membership in one or more identified group(s), is inherently either: (1) racist, sexist, or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously or (2) superior or inferior to people of another identified group.”

Ammon said the lawsuit, like the error-filled lawsuit filed last week by New Hampshire’s American Federation of Teachers, is simply a fundraising stunt by the unions and the ACLU.

“They are using it to fundraise off their woke base,” Ammon said. “This how far the ACLU has fallen, they are challenging an anti-discrimination law in federal court.”

The lawsuit lists Andres Mejia as one of the plaintiffs. Mejia is director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District, the school district where a Catholic student was punished for expressing tenets of his faith to another student outside the school’s purview.

“This law chills the very type of diversity, equity, and inclusion work that is absolutely necessary to ensure that each student is seen, heard, and connected, especially as New Hampshire becomes more diverse,” Mejia said in a statement.

The Catholic student and his family are suing the Exeter district, though without any help from New Hampshire’s ACLU. Bissonnette did not respond to a question on Monday as to why the American Civil Liberties Union would not defend a student punished for expressing his faith. 

Mejia is also a board member of Black Lives Matter Seacoast, a group that demands the removal of police officers from schools. 

Ammon says he does not think the lawsuit will succeed but does think New Hampshire taxpayers will still lose.

“We have to pay to defend the state in court against their lame allegations,” Ammon said.