At 11:15 on Wednesday, February 6th, the House Education Committee will hold a public hearing on HB 569, a bill that gives the commissioner of education, with the approval of the state board, the authority to override virtually every New Hampshire statute about education.
The bill uses innovation language but there is no statement of purpose or goals so you must read through lists of powers to see what is going on.
Any group of schools or districts could submit and “innovation plan.” Innovations “may include, but not be limited to, innovations in school staffing, curriculum and assessment, class scheduling, use of financial and other resources, and faculty recruitment, employment, evaluation, and compensation.”
The schools identify the rules they would like waived. While the bill calls them “the department’s administrative rules,” the department has policies but does not make rules. All rules are made by the State Board of Education strictly to implement state statutes. So any “rule” the state board “waived” would be a rule created by the board and approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, to implement a statute.
Schools could ask to waive rules about staffing (teacher qualifications, for instance), curriculum (how much math got taught, what academic standards would be used), assessment (such as what would count as participation in the annual statewide assessment), how teachers would be evaluated, length of the school day and school year, almost anything.
And while expected improvements in student performance would be identified, of equal import, apparently, would be “cost savings or increased efficiencies…” – a great opportunity for taxpayer groups seeking to limit budgets.
Or a group of schools would contract with one of the national charter school management companies to administer them in charter style, but with full access to local property taxes instead of the current limitations of state funding. There’s even a provision describing the kind of fundraising charter schools do.
The department would review the plans and respond with “suggestions” for further innovation. Completed innovation plans would be sent to the state board for approval.
There’s really no limit to the possibilities, all without legislative participation or oversight.
The bill would cost some potentially significant amount of money so requires a Fiscal Note, but the department asks the Legislature to vote on this bill with an “indeterminate” cost in the Fiscal Note. The cost in not really indeterminant. Colorado and Massachusetts have well-established innovation school programs, governed by detailed statutes with real goals and oversight, so the cost of administering this proposed program actually could be based on comparable programs.
In the current context, however, there is no good reason to support this bill, regardless of cost. As a result of years of effort, New Hampshire’s statutes and rules already provide the latitude needed for innovation that enhances student achievement.
Is there really any chance this will make it out of Committee? This bill opens a Pandora’s box, and without proper structure and provisions for accountability would just add to the confusing mess that already exists. Hope we can get a crowd out to testify against this one, though I really hope the House Ed Committee realizes the end around this bill represents and sends it on its way.
It could be sent to interim study but my own guess, not having discussed it with anyone at all, is that it could come out of committee with a negative recommendation largely (not entirely) along party lines. If it does go to the House floor, it will be important for reps to fully understand what it really is before voting.