It is clear to us that great public schools are the result of valuing children over profit. As a society, we have long held that the value of public education was so great, that we would all share in its costs. Elected officials have the power to create and fund laws that can help fulfill that or break that promise. So as long as politicians have a say in what goes on in our classrooms, we must be sure our voices are heard by them as they go about the people’s business in Washington, Concord, and our local communities.
Students are at the center of everything we do. Our legislative objectives again this year focus on improving student achievement, education quality, and ensuring in-service and retired education professionals have the resources, support and respect every professional deserves.
This year’s legislative priorities include:
BRING “LEARN EVERYWHERE” INTO COMPLIANCE WITH HIGH QUALITY EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS
We will expend considerable effort to ensure the so-called Learn Everywhere program – dictated by the NH Department of Education which forces local school districts to accept graduation credits derived from a dubious program – is made responsive to student’s needs, taught by qualified individuals, and which operate under a structure that includes transparency and flexibility at the local level to accept graduation credits so no school district is forced to accept such credits.
IMPROVE RETIREMENT SECURITY
Security in retirement is a promise that the state made to its workers who decided to enter public service. The average retired teacher in New Hampshire is almost 70 years old and receives a pension of less than $23,000.
For years, NEA-NH has worked with the New Hampshire Retirement Security Coalition to provide public sector workers with the retirement they deserve. A stable, well-funded, retirement system is crucial to our members. Given substantial and adverse changes were made to the retirement benefits our members realize at retirement, NEA-NH supports efforts to correct these prior legislative acts and examine ways to restore these benefits to members, including predictable COLAs.
ENSURE CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE HELD TO THE SAME STANDARDS AS NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS
NEA-NH is committed to great public schools for all students. As taxpayer-funded schools, public charter schools must be held to the same safeguards and high standards of accountability, transparency and equity as public schools. The lack of accountability and transparency for charter schools means they are held to a different standard than neighborhood schools. From how charter schools report their funding, to how they comply with training for staff, to the service provided by charters have caused concern with NEA-NH for many years.
Now that the Commissioner of Education has applied for a multi-million dollar federal grant that would double the number of charter schools in the state, and put the taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars, NEA-NH will support all efforts to make charter schools more accountable to taxpayers and more transparent to the families who send their children to them. This includes open meetings and public records laws, prohibitions against for-profit operations or profiteering, and the same civil rights, employment, labor, health and safety laws and staff qualification and certification requirements as other public schools.
SUPPORT THE WORK OF THE STATE EDUCATION FUNDING COMMISSION
New Hampshire has failed to provide stable, equitable and truly adequate funding for our public schools for decades. Governor Sununu vetoed a budget which contained millions of dollars in additional aid to education. He only signed another budget on the promise that the additional aid contained in the compromise budget was a one-time deal.
Providing resources to public education, including smaller class sizes, additional student supports, early childhood programs, and more competitive teacher compensation that permit schools and districts to recruit and retain a higher quality teacher workforce, are all positively associated with student outcomes.
Our economy depends on a well-educated, high-quality workforce and that means investing in our students. Investments in students are investments in their future and ours. Our public schools need a long-term solution to the under-funding of educational resources, not temporary solutions.
The legislature has taken a step in this direction by establishing an independent commission that will study the current formula that the state uses to fund our public schools, and make recommendations to the legislature in 2021. NEA-NH supports this effort and will work with the commission as they do their work over the next year, providing expertise, data, and information on the real time consequences of chronic education under funding in order to assist them to reach a sound, logical and sustainable solution which is not subject to the political whims of whichever party occupies the corner office. We must provide funding to ensure that every student receives a quality education that includes the support, tools, and time they need to learn.
IMPROVE SCHOOL SAFETY AND PREVENT VIOLENCE
More and more we hear from our members about their safety and the safety of their students while in school. School violence in any of its forms is unacceptable.
Parents, teachers, and administrators expect schools to be safe havens of learning. Acts of violence disrupt the learning process and have a negative effect on students, the school itself, and the broader community.
Again this year, we must work to provide a safe and secure learning environment for all students.
The issues involved encompass many areas: mental health, the opioid crisis, professional resources and staff to deal with these issues, physical violence on educational staff, the negative impacts of “shelter in place” on developing minds, to name a few issues about which NEA-NH will lobby for our members.
Our kids and communities deserve common sense laws that protect our safety. The study committee on school violence has completed its work and we will be striving to enact the recommended statutory changes encompassed in its report this year.
TAKE MEANINGFUL ACTION ON IMPROVING ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
While a broad subject area, and one which overlaps with safety issues in our schools, there are different components on which NEA-NH needs to take the lead. They range from a student’s learning environment, to obtaining the services students need to deal with mental health issues, to training staff to recognize student at-risk for suicide, to the need to ensure the mental health of our members is protected and services provided to them help them with these issues.
We need to dramatically expand our focus on mental health. Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet there is a huge shortage of school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists in public education.
We need more school-based health centers that diagnose and treat mental health disorders. It’s also important that access to mental health services is a mandatory part of all healthcare coverage. Legislators must close loopholes that allow state and local governments to opt out of providing mental healthcare as stipulated by the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996.
NEA-NH REQUESTED BILLS
Working with our legislative partners, NEA-NH has been able to find sponsors for the following legislation:
- HB 1118 Establishing a committee to study air quality in school buildings
- SB 556 Relative to violence in schools
- Relative to extended learning opportunities (awaiting bill number)
- HB 1235 Establishing a committee to study ensuring workforce maintenance through enhancement of the retirement system, and making an appropriation therefor
REMEMBERING WHY THIS IS ALL SO IMPORTANT
Public schools are the heart of the communities they serve and do much more than just teach children. They instill and nurture a great sense of community. They host continuing education courses for adults, extracurricular activities, sporting events, academic clubs, open libraries, and invite the community for concerts, and seminars.
Our public schools offer a wide variety of classes, including foreign languages, voc-tech, arts and humanities, independent studies, and college credit courses. In a public school, students receive services designed to meet their individual special and gifted education needs, and extended learning opportunities outside of the school walls overseen by a certified educator.
Public schools are fiscally responsible and spend their money more wisely than privatized schools because all spending decisions happen in public view.
Public schools have a deep commitment to students. Charter and voucher schools don’t have to accept every child.
Public schools have a commitment to educating every child who lives in the district.
We all own the public school in our neighborhood. Public schools are run by your friends, neighbors and co-workers and give parents and the community a real voice. They are worth fighting for, and that’s what NEA-NH will continue to do in Concord this legislative session.