NEA-New Hampshire’s Legislative Agenda and Priorities for the 2018 session
For more than 150 years, NEA-New Hampshire has been committed to improving student achievement in New Hampshire public schools, providing learning opportunities for teachers and students, and ensuring that all students are ready to learn. Our unwavering belief in opportunity, respect and fairness drives our legislative and leadership teams who work tirelessly for our members in Concord and Washington.
“Attacks on education, opportunity and fairness happen every year, and we believe this year will be no different,” said Brendon Browne, Government Relations Director for NEA-New Hampshire. “As this legislative season restarts in January, we have identified our legislative priorities and plan to actively pursue them through the 2018 session.”
Ensuring FMLA Access for Paraprofessional Members
Last session, SB 102, our Family Medical Leave Act bill for ESPs was defeated along party lines in the New Hampshire Senate. “Ensuring access to FMLA for our paraprofessional members remains a priority for this session,” said Megan Tuttle, NEA-New Hampshire President.
SB 102 would have lowered the threshold for FMLA eligibility for educators to 900 hours, down from 1250. This would give thousands of NEA-NH members access to unpaid leave time to care for themselves or their family with a serious medical condition.
“No one should face the prospect of losing their job because they or someone they love gets sick,” said Tuttle, “but due to cutbacks, many of our ESP members cannot work 1250 hours in a year even if they work every single hour they are scheduled. FMLA recipients are faced with serious medical conditions either for themselves or for a loved one. They shouldn’t have to add a fear of losing their benefits or job to their list of concerns.”
Our bill would not have cost the state or municipalities a dime, and would have brought peace of mind to many of our ESP members. That is why it remains one of our legislative priorities this year.
Charter Schools and Vouchers
We will be focused on defeating voucher and other funding schemes that, according to NEA Vice President Becky Pringle, “suck money out of public education and funnel it to wealthy people.” “We need to send a very simple message,” said Pringle, “that we need to support our public schools and make sure that every public school is as good as our best public school.” Voucher, tax-credits, and any other euphemism that anti-public school proponents have learned to use over the years, all mean the same thing: taxpayer money being used to fund private schools, and that flies in the face of what public education is supposed to be.
Our efforts to ensure that charter schools are accountable, controlled by democratically elected boards, and have transparency will also continue. Charter schools should be part of a system of education that makes sure every student gets what they need to thrive. “Many parents do not know that New Hampshire charter schools only require half of their teachers to be certified in any subject, regardless of the subject they are teaching,” said Tuttle. “Why aren’t charter schools required to send letters to the parent of students being taught by an educator who is not highly qualified? Since a great deal of public money is going to charter schools, we need to be sure they are as transparent as all our other public schools, and have the student’s best interest at the center of everything they do.”
According to National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, in 2014-2015, New Hampshire had 2,547 students enrolled in charter schools, or 1.4% of the state public school population. Elected officials in Concord spend a great deal of time trying to improve conditions and funding for this 1.4% at the expense of the other 98.6%. And to what end? The multitude of studies on charter school effectiveness show is that the sector as a whole neither outperforms public schools nor motivates improvements in the rest of the public school system. In fact, charter expansion can have a significantly negative impact on the rest of the system since such expansion almost invariably results in fewer resources for students in public schools, larger class sizes that limit the opportunity for one-on-one attention, reductions in critical classes such as art and physical education that are part of a well-rounded curriculum and, at its worst, closures of public school. Dollars that leave for charter schools are simply no longer available to students in public schools and are not subject to the same traceability and transparency as traditional public school funds.
Educator Death Benefit
In 2016, a bill was introduced establishing a death benefit for any school employee killed in the line of duty, modeled after Michael’s Law, which provided a death benefit of $100,000 to the family of any police officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty. Like police and firefighters, educators may find themselves on the front line of violent situations, often putting themselves between the assailant and their students. The bill failed 195 to 160 in the House. We will be re-introducing the bill in this session.
“Beyond being trained and expected to act in an emergency, we know New Hampshire educators will instinctively move to protect the children in their care, putting themselves in harm’s way when the need arises. This level of dedication, caring and protection creates the need for this legislation,” said Tuttle.
A law establishing the Decennial Retirement Commission charges it with studying the New Hampshire Retirement System, NHRS, every 10 years to review funding, benefits and investment results. That Commission meets this year. The commission is charged with making recommendations to ensure the long-term viability of the retirement system, including an appropriate funding methodology, and a review of the current plan for paying off the retirement system’s unfunded liability, the effects of retirees returning to work, and the effects that changes to employer contribution rates have on municipalities. “This review will most certainly result in recommendations that will effect our members and NEA-NH is committed to ensuring the promises made to our members will be kept,” said Tuttle.
Even though issues like so-called Right to Work, and Payroll Dues Deduction were defeated last session, that does not mean we are out of the woods in terms of continued assaults on labor and collective bargaining rights. Big corporations, politicians and wealthy interests have rigged our economy and our politics against working people for decades. They have robbed Americans of the freedom to earn a decent living, have work-life balance, take a loved one to the doctor or attend a parent-teacher conference without fear of losing their job, and retire with dignity.
Unions are the most effective way for workers to come together and counter the influence big money and big corporations have on our democracy. Strong unions are able to negotiate wages and benefits that support families and better working conditions, like safe and secure schools or smaller class sizes that help students succeed. We use our collective voice to advocate for policies that benefit all working people – like increases to the minimum wage, affordable health care, and great public schools for students. Educators negotiate to keep class sizes down so children have one-on-one attentions and modern tools to learn. “We will continue to defend our hard-fought rights against the inevitable attacks from those seeking to weaken public schools and our collective strength,” said Tuttle.