When Gov. Sununu says, “SB 435 was one of my major legislative priorities,” he’s talking about a one sentence amendment to New Hampshire’s definition of an adequate education:
The state board of education shall adopt rules….relative to the approval of alternative programs for granting credit leading to graduation.
The harmless-sounding bill, sponsored by a dozen Republicans and three Democrats, sailed through both bodies on voice votes (based on near unanimous committee support).
Legislators and school administrators probably did not realize the trap that had been laid for them until the State Board of Education approved the initial draft of the of the rule required by that sentence.
What does the proposed rule actually say? Here it is. Under the proposed rule, the state board grants itself the authority to make use of the diploma issued by any local school board in New Hampshire.
How is that possible? The state board would accredit (the rule calls it granting a “license” to) any for-profit or non-profit group with a presence in New Hampshire giving it the authority to issue academic credits which must be accepted by any New Hampshire high school. The process is something like authorizing a charter school but, where a charter high school grants its own credits and diploma, “Learn Everywhere” groups, as they are called, would have the authority to create credits in Laconia, Bow, Salem, Hanover or anywhere in the State.
Ed 1406.02 Issuing Credit for Graduation.
(a) Certificates shall be used to grant credit for graduation.
(b) The student shall submit the completion certificate to the high school where they wish to be granted credit, or they shall not receive credit.
(c) Approved New Hampshire schools shall grant students with valid completion certificates high school credit leading to graduation in the area enumerated.
Notice the word “shall” in that last sentence. That means that any group the state board of education has accredited can make use of any high school diploma in the State – whether or not the credits meet local standards.
That includes the local dance instructor and the math tutorial program at the Boy’s and Girl’s club. But it also includes full-on non-school schools like BigFish in Dover. Or a for-profit enterprise that might otherwise have started a school could now, with a state board accreditation, recruit students across the State for its on-line courses and grant certificates that every high school would have to accept. For that matter, anyone in a living room or church basement could do the same.
In the extreme case, a student could get most or all of her credits from Learn Everywhere groups and get a diploma from her local public high school. Over time, if the program caught on, local diplomas would no longer have the same meaning in the eyes of employers and post-secondary schools. They would essentially be New Hampshire State Board of Education diplomas.
But, as extreme as all this is, there is an easy fix. One word word needs to change. In the bolded sentence above, the “shall” could change to “may”:
(c) Approved New Hampshire schools may grant students with valid completion certificates high school credit leading to graduation in the area enumerated.
That simple change would mean that, before a student and her parents invested in a credit granting certificate from a Learn Everywhere group, they would want to check with their local school board to ensure that good performance would gain them real high school credit.
And it should not be hard to make that change. This is not statute. It’s just a proposed rule. The state board will hold a public hearing on the rule on February 14. That will be an opportunity for school board members, parents, and others serious about local control of education to be heard.
And the step after that is approval by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR). Here’s everything about JLCAR. (Committee membership listed there is from the last Legislature. It will be different in the new Legislature.) The important thing to know is that JLCAR must approve the rule. Normally, a rule implements specific legislation. A proposed rule would not bypass the legislative process to institute this kind of radical change in how business is done. So JLCAR will surely pay close attention to this rule when it comes to them, probably in the spring.
If the state board sends the current proposal to JLCAR in spite of the feedback they get at the public hearing, JLCAR will be the next venue for the discussion.
The credit granting authority proposed in the Learn Everywhere program would turn New Hampshire public education on its head, allocating to the state board the authority to grant graduation credits that local schools boards are elected to grant. In New Hampshire, of all places, that surely can’t happen.