On Tuesday, November 16th, Republicans in the House Education Committee crammed through a last-minute amendment (with 10-9 party line vote) to HB607, a bill that was retained in committee last spring. This amended bill creates a new LOCAL form of school vouchers and could undermine local public school budgets and have a significant, negative impact on property taxes. The amendment was introduced in the late afternoon after 6 hours of testimony on another amendment being discussed and voted on that day, a non-germane ban on vaccination mandates (see below). This differs from the state’s version of school voucher program that passed in June by being buried in the state budget, which only allows low-income families with earnings as high as 300 percent of the federal poverty level to participate for an average amount of $4,600. In contrast, this local version has no income limits and would allow for much higher dollar amounts. It would require 60% of the voters in each school district to approve a warrant article authorizing its existence.
As an InDepthNH article explains "an amendment to House Bill 607 would allow school districts to establish Education Freedom Accounts using local education money.
The state already offers Education Freedom Accounts, which provide public funding to make it easier for parents to choose the schools their children attend. Such accounts have proven to be more popular than anticipated. Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said they now expect between 1,000 and 1,500 students to join the program. The New Hampshire Legislature had budgeted enough money to cover 28 students.
The amended bill approved by the House Education Committee this week is separate from the state program, enabling local Education Freedom Accounts that allocate a portion of public school funds to cover the costs.
The calculation takes the previous year’s local education tax revenue and subtracts special education funding. Eighty percent of the resulting figure would be divided by the average number of students in daily attendance to determine the per-pupil EFA grant amount.
In the examples provided to the committee, Newfields would have a local EFA grant of $11,462 per student; Rumney’s would be $10,788; Conway’s would be $4,872; and Deerfield’s would be $8,871.
If the amended bill is approved by the full House and Senate and becomes law, the superintendent of each school district adopting the program would make the necessary amount of funding available to each student requesting a local Education Freedom Account.
The money could be used toward educational costs at any private, religious, or charter school of the parents’ choice. [or for homeschooling]
A statement from the House Democratic Office said, “The last-minute amendment jammed through House Education, with no public hearing, is a stealth attack on New Hampshire taxpayers as it would create a new voucher program that would draw exclusively on local property tax dollars and remove the parental income requirement. Expanding the voucher program in New Hampshire will dramatically increase property taxes statewide and swing the door wide open for absolutely anyone, regardless of income level, to force local property taxpayers to pay their private school tuition bills.
"Just last week, it came to light that the current voucher program Gov. Sununu signed into law this June is under-budgeted by five thousand percent in its first year, with most funds going to families and children already homeschooled or enrolled in private school.”
Grants for the 1,500 students potentially participating in the first year of the program would amount to $6.9 million, while the state had budgeted only $129,000.
“Make no mistake, this has been the Republicans’ plans all along. Their ultimate goal of defunding public education and sending tax dollars to private and religious schools is here and is expanding every chance they get. Just like the current voucher program, this new program lacks accountability and is nothing short of stealing your tax dollars. Granite State taxpayers deserve better."
Additional criticism revolves around procedural issues. Democrats argued the proposal was being advanced out of the committee without sufficient discussion. As this New Hampshire Bulletin article points out, it didn't receive a public hearing.
More details on this alarming development can be found in the 2 articles linked in this section.
Stay tuned as this will be voted on by the full House on January 5th or 6th. We will be back at a later date with action items on this. Please warn your friends and families about what the Republicans are pushing through. Consider writing a Letter to the Editor to inform your community.
Sourced from Hillsborough County NH Democratic Committee.
This past week was a doozy! There was a lot of bad news around the state. The headlines are definitely discouraging, but it's important to know, and to make sure other voters are aware of what is happening in our state. Here is a recap with linked articles for more color.
Amendment Moves Forward Disallowing Vaccine Mandates
Last week, we asked you to email the House Education Committee regarding a non-germane Amendment 2021-2239h to HB 255, which allows any employee to request a conscientious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine. The bill would also expand the exemptions people could claim to avoid a workplace vaccine mandate to include philosophical reasons and natural immunity. On Tuesday, the committee voted on party lines (11-8) to pass the amendment, and it will now be voted on by the full House in early January. If passed at that point, this would tie the hands of public and private schools, hospitals and businesses, limiting their ability to adopt policies that are recommended by public health experts.
The provision was tacked onto a larger bill approved by the committee, which would exempt businesses and colleges from liability if an employee or student is exposed to COVID-19. Close to 6 hours of public testimony took place which was dominated by those supporting the amendment in opposition to vaccine mandates.
Related, House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) said recently he is drafting legislation for the upcoming session to block the state or local governments from enforcing vaccine mandates in New Hampshire. More coverage here.
Republican House Speaker Uses Strong-arm Tactics On His Own Representatives to Squelch Free Thought
Just prior to the House Education Committee's votes on the two amendments discussed above, and while the committee was in session, House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) abruptly stripped one of his own State Representatives, James Allard (R-Pittsfield), from that committee, moving him to the Fish & Game Committee. The Republicans handpicked their members sitting in that committee on Tuesday because leadership feared Allard might vote with the Democratic minority. There were four Republican substitutes on the House Education Committee on Tuesday. State Rep David Luneau (D-Hopkinton) stated, “I don’t think the four Republican substitutes were very familiar with either of those bills. None of them could really answer these questions yet, and they were important technical questions that needed to be ironed out.” For more info.
Republicans' Gerrymandered Congressional District Maps Accepted
Last Tuesday, the Republican-led Special Committee on Redistricting voted to recommend the heavily gerrymandered Republican maps. As NHPR describes, the committee "voted through a plan that would make dramatic changes to the state's congressional districts.
The map, adopted on a party-line vote Tuesday, would transform the state’s 1st Congressional District, a seat now represented by Democrat Chris Pappas, into much friendlier Republican territory.
The 2nd District, which has been represented by Democrat Annie Kuster for five terms, would meanwhile become more Democratic.
State Representative Marjorie Smith (D-Durham) said "adopting the Republican drawn map would be tantamount to guaranteeing electoral outcomes. "I cannot be part of a map that predetermines Democratic or Republican success."
In an opinion piece in the Union Leader, worth reading in its entirety, Former NH Democratic Party Chair Kathy Sullivan attacks Republicans on a variety of recent legislative actions including their gerrymandered maps: "Republican legislators know their fringe-driven agenda is not popular with New Hampshire’s moderate and independent voters. Why else would they be using the redistricting process to try to rig election outcomes? This is particularly evident in the proposed congressional districts, which would shift hundreds of thousands of voters to new districts. A party confident in its ability to win on the issues does not need to put its thumb on the scales."
Cuts to NH's Energy Efficiency Programs
On Friday, November 12th, New Hampshire's Public Utilities Commission, all Sununu appointees, decreased funding for energy efficiency programs over the next two years, returning them to 2017 funding levels, and rejected the triennial energy efficiency plan. The decision will also impact programs for low-income residents of the state, like the Home Energy Assistance Program, a weatherizing program meant to reduce energy consumption by appliances and HVAC systems using electricity and fossil fuels.
This week, Eversource stopped taking new applications for its NHSaves program and halted energy audits, a move the company said it was forced to make after the Public Utilities Commission rejected the triennium energy efficiency plan. Shortly afterward, Liberty Utilities followed suit.
The decision has drawn criticism from proponents of energy efficiency and may face legal challenges.
Sourced from Hillsborough County NH Democratic Committee.
$22.5 Million in Federal Vaccine Assistance Reaches Final Approval
On Friday, New Hampshire lawmakers on the Joint Fiscal committee finally voted to accept $22.5 million in federal COVID-19 vaccine funds. As ABC reports, the funding "has sparked intense debate and angry protests for the last two months...Three Republicans joined the committee’s three Democrats in voting to accept the money. Four Republicans voted no, with some citing concerns that language in the grant would require the state to follow future federal directives and mandates related to COVID-19. Senate Democrats on the fiscal committee issued a statement after Friday's vote saying they were appalled that it took so long to approve the money. “People are dying. Our hospitals are once again reaching capacity,” they said. “Today’s vote didn’t happen because it was the right thing to do. It finally happened because Republicans needed to wait until they decided they’d developed enough political cover to finally do the right thing.”
Sourced from Hillsborough County NH Democratic Committee.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more Granite Staters have the opportunity to directly impact the legislative process safely and remotely. You can sign up to testify or register your opinion with the State House or the State Senate. To participate in either chambers proceedings:
With the current legislative session coming to a close, our email alerts will move from a weekly format to more sporadic updates, as news and events warrant, during the summer months.
The fall session will start off with a bang as dozens of bills were "retained in committee" and will be brought up again before the reporting deadlines of November 18th in the House and December 16th in the Senate. New bills will be added in the fall as well. The Republicans will surely feel emboldened next session by the legislation they've been able to pass this year. Our advocacy work must continue.
We encourage all of our activists to call or email their State Representative and State Senator, write letters to the editor (LTEs), testify and/or register positions on these important bills! To contact your lawmakers and express your thoughts on upcoming legislation, click here.
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