The New Hampshire House returns Wednesday for a two-day bills voting session. Hundreds of bills have passed through committees since members last met in early January to discuss bridging legislation.
Here are some of House Education’s voices to watch out for.
Freedom of Education Accounts
The House of Representatives is likely to defeat two Democrat-led bills designed to curb the new Education Freedom Account program, which allows families in New Hampshire to use public education funds for private and home school expenses. Democrats, who have strongly opposed the program because it will prove costly and divert funds from the Education Trust Fund, have introduced House bill 1684, which would limit the total amount The state could award $3.3 million in educational freedom grants in its sophomore year.
Democrats argue that the cap would put the program on a reasonable budget that would prevent the Education Trust Fund, which funds public schools, from going overboard. And they have pointed to the unexpected interest in the program, which the Department of Education says will cost the state about $8 million in its first year — a larger expense than predicted. Republicans counter that introducing the cap “would decimate the program by setting up an arbitrary budget.”
The house will also record HB1516, which would keep local property tax monies from propping up the education freedom accounts. Republicans have dismissed the law as an “indirect attack” on the program and have vowed to thwart it.
Both bills received party recommendations of 10 to 8 “unsuitable for legislation” in the House Education Committee earlier this month.
Expansion of school meals
Two other Democratic bills related to school meals are likely to be struck on the House floor this week. One, HB1660 would require public schools to provide both breakfast and lunch to all students — an extension of the current requirement for schools to provide “at least one meal.” HB 1660 would also create a state fund to help schools pay for the extra meals, which could draw money from “any available state, federal, or private source.”
HB1657, meanwhile, would create a state-funded “farm-to-school reimbursement program” to help schools that want to buy locally produced food from farms, with up to $1,200 per year per school. The program would cost $600,000 the first year.
Democrats say the bills will help fight child hunger while supporting local agriculture. But Republican lawmakers say the cost of both bills would be excessive.
“Providing breakfast and lunch for children remains a parent’s responsibility,” said Rep. Deborah Hobson, an East Kingston Republican, and “whether or not to participate in this program is a decision of the locally elected school board.”
The bills were both voted “inappropriate for legislation” by the House Education Committee.
In a handful of cases, the two parties have joined forces over specific bills.
The House Education Committee voted unanimously in favor of a recommendation HB1218that would merge Granite State College in Concord with the University of New Hampshire, which Hopkinton representative Dave Luneau said would improve the “reputation, visibility and market reach of the system” for Granite State College, which targets many of its programs at older people aligns adults.
Democrats and Republicans on the committee agreed to add human trafficking convictions to the list of offenses that bar teachers from employment HB1234and banning teachers with assault and controlled drug possession convictions from employment to termination HB1311.
And the parties agreed to recommend rejecting two bills on higher education. The first, HB1574would require that New Hampshire Public Colleges state tuition fees to students who have registered to vote in the state. HB1648 would require public higher education institutions to establish peer support groups to address mental health.
Committee members said both bills would add significant costs to New Hampshire’s university system, particularly state tuition, which the university system said could cost them $139.5 million annually.
Finally, the house is ready to send an interim study HB1680, a bill designed to reshape the state’s allocation of school funding by aligning it with student outcomes and shelving the bill for the remainder of the year. The bill’s lead sponsor, Luneau, said he welcomed the time to study it further.
The House of Representatives will take up these bills and dozens of others on Wednesday, February 16 at 1:00 p.m. and Thursday, February 17 at 9:30 a.m. A live stream of the proceedings can be viewed at http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/.