The New Hampshire House is returning Wednesday for a two-day bill voting session. Since members last met in early January to take up holdover legislation, hundreds of bills have moved through committees.
Here are some of the floor votes to watch for from House Education.
Education freedom accounts
The House is likely to vote down a pair Democratic-led bills intended to curb the new “education freedom account” program, which allows New Hampshire families to use public education dollars toward private and home-schooling expenses. Democrats, who have strongly opposed the program on the basis that it will prove costly and divert money from the Education Trust Fund, have introduced House Bill 1684, which would cap the total amount the state could send out in education freedom account grants to $3.3 million in its second year.
Democrats argue that the cap would put the program onto a reasonable budget that would prevent the Education Trust Fund, which funds public schools, from being overdrawn. And they’ve pointed to the unexpected interest in the program, which the Department of Education says will cost the state around $8 million in its first year – a higher expense than predicted. Republicans counter that putting the cap in place “would decimate the program by establishing an arbitrary budget.”
The House will also take up HB 1516, which would prevent local property-tax dollars from going to support the education freedom accounts. Republicans have dismissed the bill as “an indirect attack” on the program and vowed to defeat it.
Both bills received 10-8, party-line recommendations of “inexpedient to legislate” in the House Education Committee earlier this month.
Expansion of school meals
Two other Democratic bills related to school meals are likely to be axed this week on the House floor. One, HB 1660 would require public schools to provide both breakfast and lunch to all students – an expansion of the current requirement that schools provide “at least one meal.” HB 1660 would also create a state fund to help reimburse schools for the additional meal services, which could take money from “any available state, federal, or private source.”
HB 1657, meanwhile, would create a state-funded “farm-to-school reimbursement program” to help schools that want to buy locally produced food from farms, at up to $1,200 per year per school. The program would cost $600,000 in its first year.
Democrats say the bills will help address child hunger while supporting local agriculture. But Republican lawmakers say the costs of both bills would be too high.
“Providing breakfast and lunch to children remains a parental responsibility,” said Rep. Deborah Hobson, an East Kingston Republican, and that “whether to engage in this program or not is a decision for the local elected school board.”
The bills were both voted “inexpedient to legislate” by the House Education Committee.
Areas of agreement
In a handful of cases, the two parties have come together over specific bills.
The House Education Committee voted unanimously to recommend HB 1218, which would merge Granite State College in Concord with the University of New Hampshire, which Democratic Rep. Dave Luneau of Hopkinton said would enhance “system reputation, visibility, and market reach” for Granite State College, which gears many of its programs toward older adults.
Democrats and Republicans on the committee agreed to add human trafficking convictions to the list of offenses that bar teachers from employment, in HB 1234, and prohibiting teachers with assault and controlled-drug possession convictions from employment through HB 1311.
And the parties agreed to recommend killing two bills aimed at higher education. The first, HB 1574, would require that New Hampshire public colleges charge in-state tuition to students who registered to vote in the state. HB 1648 would require public higher education institutions to implement peer support groups to address mental health.
Committee members said both bills would add significant costs to the University System of New Hampshire, particularly the in-state tuition requirement that the university system said could cost them $139.5 million annually.
Finally, the House is poised to send to interim study HB 1680, a bill to retool how the state allocates its school funding by orienting it around student outcomes, effectively shelving the bill for the rest of the year. The bill’s prime sponsor, Luneau, said he welcomed the time to study it further.
The House will take up these bills and dozens of others on Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 1 p.m. and Thursday, Feb. 17, at 9:30 a.m. A livestream of the proceedings can be watched at http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/.
This story was originally published by New Hampshire Bulletin.