The Manifest Educational Hardship (MEH) statute governs the process for reassigning a student to another school if the parents demonstrate that continuing in the current school would have a detrimental effect on the student and another school would be better. Up to now, MEH has provided a path for school boards to respond to real problems a student might have. However, local school boards and the state board of education have seen an increasing interest in using the MEH as a path for a family that might just prefer to send their child to a different school, whether or not there is a clear hardship at the current school.
The department of education has recently proposed to the state board rules that would go even further and make it difficult for a local school board to refuse to grant a request for student reassignment to any desired public or private school. The state board has rejected these proposals but House Education chair Rick Ladd (R, Haverhill) is writing MEH legislation (LSR 2530) that could become a vehicle for some of the same changes the commissioner has proposed in the form of rules.
We are familiar with voucher bills like SB 193, which would give a public school student a voucher worth $3,600 to over $5,000 toward private education services. That money would come from the state adequacy funds that would otherwise have gone to the school district. MEH would be a much costlier school choice program.
“School reassignment” actually means tuitioning a student out to another school. When a school district does that, it is essentially paying twice for that child’s education. First, when the student leaves, local school costs don’t go down. The district budget is the same, whether or not that student is there. But the district’s revenue decreases because the district loses the state adequacy grant for that student. Then the district also pays the full cost of the negotiated tuition to the alternative school.
If there is a real hardship, the taxpayers and the school board are probably glad to do that. However, if MEH becomes a back door to school choice, the local school becomes less viable as an institution and the tax burden dramatically increases.
Nothing about MEH has changed yet, but statutory changes will be proposed in the upcoming legislative session and rule changes are under discussion at the state board of education. In both cases the thrust of proposals is to open up the MEH pathway to virtually unlimited school choice.
We will keep track of these as they progress.