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Thursday, February 9, 2012

NH withdrawal from No Child Left Behind nixed in the House

CONCORD – New Hampshire will stick with No Child Left Behind, after legislators effectively dodged a vote on withdrawing from the federal law Wednesday.

The House tabled two bills that would have made New Hampshire the first state to withdraw completely from the federal education law.

One of the bills, HB 1413, directed state officials to withdraw from the federal education law passed in 2002. Another proposal, HB 1517, terminated all contracts between the state and the federal government having to do with No Child Left Behind. Any future contracts would have to be approved by the Legislature.

Opponents argued withdrawing from the law would cost the state $61 million in federal funding, striking a devastating blow to the state’s low-income schools.

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, heard those concerns and quickly moved to table HB 1413 Wednesday morning.

He said No Child Left Behind has increased involvement in public education, outlining significant and justifiable concerns about withdrawing from the law.

“We should table this until the full fiscal consequences of withdrawing could be analyzed,” he said.

Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, added that cities and towns are going through the budget process and should have a final answer on what federal funding they will receive.

The House voted, 253-81, to table HB 1413 and did the same to HB 1517 by a voice vote.

House Minority Leader Rep. Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, said the move was an attempt to avoid going on the record about the “reckless and irresponsible” bills.

“These bills would make devastating cuts to public education in New Hampshire; they put ideology before common sense and should have been killed in committee,” she said in a statement.

Withdrawing from No Child Left Behind would have restricted the state from accepting federal funds for the purpose of implementing the law. That would mean the Nashua School District would lose $4.2 million in Title I federal funds and $5.2 million total, Superintendent Mark Conrad said Monday.

The money is used to help at-risk students and supports an early childhood center, Conrad said. It also accounts for more than 90 percent of the district’s budget for staff development and funds at least 17 teaching positions, he said.

Some representatives maintained Wednesday that withdrawing from the law is the correct move for New Hampshire.

Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, said doing so would give local school districts more control over the performance of their students.

“By withdrawing and clearly cutting the strings to No Child Left Behind, the state and local school boards will be empowered to make rules and statutes which will improve the performance of our school systems,” he said.

Despite dodging the two bills on No Child Left Behind, representatives did move forward with a bill, HB 1692, to eliminate the chancellor’s office at the University System of New Hampshire.

Bettencourt said the bill will offer savings to the University System and give the four member colleges – University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, Keene State College, and Granite State College – more autonomy.

“This legislation shrinks the chancellor’s office back down to the size it was intended to be when the chancellor’s office was first implemented back in the ’70s,” he said.

He added that all savings inherited by closing the chancellor’s office would be directed back to the four member schools, and that the money could be used to reduce tuition for students.

Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, D-Concord, spoke out against the bill, saying it would intrude on the ongoing process to make major administrative changes in the university system by the members themselves.

She noted that each president of the four member schools spoke against the bill at its public hearing. They argued that the bill would be intrusive and disruptive to the reorganization process already underway in the university system.

“Let’s be patient and trust that the chancellor and the trustees can do the job,” Gile said. “If not, we can bring the bill back next year.”

Despite the arguments of Gile and others, HB 1692 received initial approval by a vote mostly along party lines, 293-105. It was referred to the House Finance Committee for further consideration and must be reported back to the House for a second vote by the end of March before it can move onto the Senate.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com. Also check out Kittle (@Telegraph_CamK) on Twitter.