CONCORD — The next frontier for school choice in New Hampshire took a decisive hit Thursday when a legislative rules panel blocked from moving forward the Learn Everywhere initiative of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut.
The 6-4 vote on a final objection from the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules puts on the sidelines this initiative to permit students to take non-traditional, alternative courses and get course credit for them from public schools.
The scene now shifts to the New Hampshire Legislature in 2020 that will vote on a joint resolution from this rules committee asking for lawmakers to embrace the block on this program.
“I am disappointed State House politics are stalling innovation in New Hampshire education. Learn Everywhere would empower parents and students to build a better education by accessing innovative courses outside of the classroom. These courses would go through a rigorous approval process by the State Board of Education,” Edelblut said in a statement.
“Programs like Learn Everywhere provide opportunities that help all students, but are particularly crucial in giving disadvantaged students a path to succeed in their education and work towards bright futures.”
Politically this could only be a temporary setback since Gov. Chris Sununu remains a strong advocate of the program.
The governor could veto any joint resolution that reaches his desk. A small, united wall of Republican lawmakers this year upheld more than 50 of Sununu’s vetoes.
“We have addressed every objection raised by members of the rules committee, but they have steadfastly opposed every effort to create new options for New Hampshire students. Today’s vote will delay implementation of Learn Everywhere until the Legislature considers a Joint Resolution,” Edelblut said.
“As Gov. Sununu remains a strong supporter of Learn Everywhere, today’s vote will only delay the program.”
Democratic legislative leaders said in blocking Learn Everywhere they cast a vote for local control against this reform they maintain would shift curriculum authority away from school districts to an empowered state Board of Education.
“The Board of Education can’t rewrite state statute through a rule setting process. Statutes make clear that the board does not have the authority to approve school curriculum — that’s the responsibility of local school districts,” said State Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, who chairs the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee.
“There was a bipartisan effort this year to clarify those roles. Unfortunately, Governor Sununu vetoed that bill so now we’re left with the statutes as they exist.”
Kahn said costs for extended learning are dependent on location and local decision making means it is easier and less expensive for students to pursue other pathways into career technical and higher education schooling.
State Board of Education Chairman Drew Cline had worked to get his policy group to move these proposals to the rules panel.
“It’s disheartening to see legislators oppose carefully crafted rules that would create an effective and meaningful program to expand learning opportunities to all New Hampshire students,” Cline said.
The Republican-led Legislature in 2018 had passed a state law instructing the Department of Education to offer “alternative” programs like Learn Everywhere.
When the Democrats took back control of both the NH House and Senate last November, lawmakers passed a bill repealing this change.
But last July 10, Sununu vetoed that bill (SB 140).
“My firm belief is that all students can find success when we put them in the right environment, inside or outside of a classroom,” Sununu wrote in that veto message. “Programs like Learn Everywhere continue this legacy by enabling creative and innovative learning experiences for all of our public school students.”
State GOP Chairman Stephen Stepanek said this is another sign to voters that teacher labor unions have control in the Democratically-led Legislature.
“Democrats are putting unions and their special interests ahead of students. Children are educated everyday by a variety of different community-based organizations, and solid, high-quality education from state Board of Education-sanctioned organizations should qualify for credit just as much as solid, high-quality education in a public school,” Stepanek said.
“Today’s actions by JLCAR highlight that this Legislature continues to be the most hyper-partisan Legislature ever.”