The New Hampshire House of Representatives is currently awash in education bills, many of which will never see the light of day. However, some of these bills are setting the stage for big discussions about public schools, the role of the state, and the rights of parents.
To help sort through the confusion, the following is a roundup of bills coming before the House between now and Crossover day.
The Big Fish
The Business Profits Tax Credit Scholarship Program (HB 1607 and its Senate version SB 372) has the support of all of the top Republicans in Concord. The program would establish a tax credit for businesses that donate to independent scholarship organizations. The bill's supporters say this will leverage more money for education, increase competition and improve outcomes. Both bills have the backing of the entire GOP leadership. The plan has been panned by critics as a barely concealed form of school vouchers that will drain public schools of their best and brightest.
Also of note is CACR 12, a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature the power to distribute education funding as it sees fit. This is the latest attempt to craft an amendment that would give lawmakers a freer hand to distribute school aid. Under the Claremont Supreme Court Decisions, the state must pay for "an adequate education" for every child, irrespective of a communities capacity to raise the money locally. The proposal passed the House by the required three-fifths, but a Senate committee has amended it. Senate President Peter Bragdon says, "The whole goal here has been to come up with an amendment that has bipartisan support, and we've done just that." Another, less politically palatable school funding amendment, CACR 8, would let the state fund schools "in the manner and degree that [it] finds most beneficial to the general good."
Lastly HB 1473 would adjust the funding formula for state adequacy grants, reducing those payments to local schools by $123 million. Republican backers of this bill say this is a necessary tweak of the formula, while the bill's critics decry the funding cut.
Who's in Control
Another significant category of bills seek to shift the control of education closer to the citizen. The most prominent example in this category is HB 542, which recently passed on an override of Gov. John Lynch's veto, and allows parents to remove their children from any class that they find "objectionable."
There are a few bills that follow in this vein of parental choice, but others would shift rulemaking authority from the Department of Education to the Board of Education, or from the Board of Education to the Legislature. Here's a quick rundown:
- HB 1713 would abolish the state Department of Education.
- HB 1692 would abolish the chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire
No Child Left Behind
HB 1413 and HB1517 would both require New Hampshire to pull out of No Child Left Behind. Lawmakers who advocate local control say that the federal education guidelines are cumbersome and unrealistic and the time has come to consign them to history. However, in doing so the state would forgo $61.6 million, according to in federal grants that fund mostly programs for low-income students.
What Will Go Forward?
Typically bills that have big names behind them are the ones that are pushed through the legislature. When the New Hampshire Republican leadership unveiled the 2012 legislative agenda, they highlighted the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, and school funding constitutional amendment as priorities.
The next set of bills will come before the house tomorrow, including the two on No-Child-Left-Behind , and the proposal to abolish the University System of New Hampshire chancellor position.