NH Week in Review for April 30: Education issues get the spotlight

Apr 30, 2017

Front and center this week were public education issues that affected all-day kindergarten, school choice, and the reorganization of the state Department of Education.

Funding for school districts across the state to offer full-day kindergarten is high on the list of priorities for Gov. Christopher Sununu. He put it in the $12.1 billion proposed fiscal 2018-19 budget he offered to the state Legislature in February, and it has had wide bipartisan support.

But it encountered some political headwinds when the House Finance Committee, in recommending an $11.9 billion budget, eliminated the kindergarten program funding. The full House, largely because of disagreement among majority Republicans, couldn’t agree enough to act on a budget. It was “laid on the table”, as they say, and the budget is now in the hands of the state Senate.

Both the Senate and a House committee have taken action to better shore up the chances of full-day kindergarten. The Senate already passed SB 191, which puts $14.5 million into a fund for school districts to create full-day kindergarten if they choose to do so. This week, the House Education Committee voted to back the measure, which has Sununu’s support. It now goes to the House Finance Committee. See an NHPR story here.

"Today's actions are a significant step forward for New Hampshire," Sununu said in a statement. "Full-day kindergarten is good for children, families, and a critical tool in retaining our workforce."

The House Education Committee voted to keep the school choice bill - SB 193 - in committee.

The measure would provide state funding grants for students attending a variety of schools, including private and religious schools. It passed the GOP-controlled Senate along party lines, but House members have misgivings about its constitutionality. "Our New Hampshire Constitution is clear that private funds cannot be used for sectarian purposes," said Rep. Mary Heath, D-Manchester. See a Union Leader story here.

State senators sought middle ground in the proposal of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut to overhaul his department. The Senate is considering an amendment to an unrelated bill that, if passed, would give Edelblut wide-ranging authority to restructure the department, including collapsing all of the department’s functions into the commissioner’s office.

This was met with some resistance, particularly among Democrats, who worry that the change gives the commissioner (particularly one appointed by a Republican governor) too much single-handed authority over public education.

A proposal this week by Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, allows Edelblut the latitude to reassign personnel within the Department of Education while a study committee mulls a larger restructuring effort. See a Concord Monitor story here.

Also at the State House

A House committee voted in favor of a Senate-passed bill to strengthen the state’s rape shield law. Current law does not allow the use of a woman’s past sexual history in the trial of a rape suspect. It does not apply, however, in a rape case on appeal. SB 9 seeks to remedy that, and it has the support of Gov. Sununu, as well as the family of Lizzi Marriott, a student who was murdered and whose convicted murderer sought to use her sexual history on appeal. See an NH1 story here.

The governor testified at a legislative hearing this week to tell lawmakers that providing additional mental health services in the Granite State is “not an option but a mandate.” On average 45 people a day in New Hampshire are waiting for inpatient psychiatric care. HB 400 calls for 20 new beds for those with severe mental illness as well as 40 new transitional beds in the community and an additional mobile crisis unit. See an NHPR story here.

State Rep. Robert Fisher, R-Laconia, was resisting political pressure this week to resign after it was revealed he was a frequent contributor (and possible creator) of a misogynistic online forum called “The Red Pill” on Reddit. The governor, the House speaker, and others have encouraged Fisher to resign his seat, but he offered a statement saying he has no intention of resigning. See a WMUR story here.

Also

Public safety officials are concerned about the emergence of a new deadly drug in their fight against the opioid epidemic. The drug is carfentanil. It’s an animal tranquilizer (for big animals, such as elephants) and it can be deadly in very, very small doses. Already, according to authorities, it is responsible for three overdose deaths in the state. See an NHPR story here.

Craig Benson, who served a single term as governor from 2003-05, had his official portrait unveiled this week at the State House. The portrait depicts Benson in Representatives Hall at the Statehouse with an American flag as a backdrop. "This country’s great for two reasons, and both of them are in that portrait,” Benson said. “One, we love this country. And two, we have people who are willing to come to this very chamber, 400 of them, for no pay, and work to make this place a better place.”  See a Concord Monitor story here.

A report this week said New Hampshire’s community colleges are the least affordable in the nation. The report - College Cost in Context - was published by The Institute for College Access & Success, based on data from 2014-15. See a New Hampshire Business Review story here.

On our Facebook page this week, we offered up some interesting topics for discussion, including the proposed strengthening of the rape shield law and a measure that would allow recreational poker games in your home. (Right, who knew they weren’t allowed?) Read all about it here.
 

 

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