New Hampshire Senate passes bills to allow book banning, uncertified teachers

CONCORD — Protesters sat quietly outside the New Hampshire Senate room on Wednesday, reading books.

They were there to show opposition to an amendment attached to House Bill 1311 that bill sponsor Rep. David Paige, D-Concord, said would turn it into a “book banning bill.”

As originally written, HB 1311, also known as the “Students’ Freedom to Read Bill,” would’ve required school boards to adopt transparent and clear procedures for addressing book removal requests, and that those policies could not exclude books based solely on an author or subjects’ identity as a member in a protected class like race or sexual orientation.

Rep. David Paige, D-Concord, joined people protesting outside the Senate against an amendment to his bill HB 1311 on Wednesday, May 22. He said the amendment turns it into a book banning bill.Rep. David Paige, D-Concord, joined people protesting outside the Senate against an amendment to his bill HB 1311 on Wednesday, May 22. He said the amendment turns it into a book banning bill.

Rep. David Paige, D-Concord, joined people protesting outside the Senate against an amendment to his bill HB 1311 on Wednesday, May 22. He said the amendment turns it into a book banning bill.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Timothy Lang, R-Sanbornton, introduced the amendment.

“As amended by the Senate Education Committee, House Bill 1311 provides a uniform collection reconsideration process for school libraries and media centers,” said Lang. “Materials should not be prescribed or procured primarily based on the author’s sex, or subject’s sex, age, gender identity, race, creed, origin, orientation, or disability. Further, the material’s procurement cannot be predicated on a given viewpoint.”

Paige said the changes of adding the word “primarily” and expanding the bill to the procurement of materials would open the door for discriminatory reasons to be considered as factors in the exclusion of the materials, as long as it’s not the “primary” reason, as well as make it harder for educators to develop inclusive collections.

“Let’s imagine you have an immigrant community that’s come to your city. What this bill, if it passes as amended, will say is you can’t choose to buy a book specifically because you want better representation of that new immigrant community in your town,” said Paige. “That disservices every student, the immigrant student who’s trying to see themselves in the curriculum and the collection, but it also disservices all the other students in the store need to get to know their new neighbors.”

Deb Howes, the president of the American Federation of Teachers in New Hampshire, said the bill as amended would set up potentially two “conflicting and confusing” procedures for acquiring and reconsidering school library materials that could potentially lead to a lawsuit.

The Senate voted to pass the bill as amended by voice vote with little discussion on the floor, though Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, D-Portsmouth, spoke in opposition. It was one of three education bills the Senate passed Wednesday that New Hampshire teachers unions opposed; the others included HB 1298, which creates an uncertified “part-time teacher” role in schools, and HB 1665, which expands eligibility for the education freedom accounts program.

Senate expands education freedom account program

On one of the few roll call votes of the day, the Senate voted along party lines, 14-10, to expand the education freedom account program by raising the annual household income of the applying student to 400% of the federal poverty guidelines.

The EFA program allows families to use some of the state funding that would go to their child’s public school toward private school or home-schooling expenses instead.

“I believe parents deserve choice in education,” said Lang. “I’ve said it before, we’ve heard it before, I have four kids, all of them learn differently. All of them deserve the best education possible.”

Lang added that change in the percent of federal poverty guidelines is also necessary for inflation.

“Can we just stop pretending that the EFA were ever for low-income families,” said Sen. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, who spoke in opposition to the bill. “Let’s drop the pretense that the effort to kneecap our public schools with death by 1,000 cuts and drawing more and more money out of our Education Trust Fund to stand up for what essentially amounts to a second school system that we throw money at with absolutely no oversight.”

Both Howes and Megan Tuttle, the president of NEA-New Hampshire, released statements against the bill.

“Public dollars belong in public schools. Period,” said Tuttle. “Any vote to expand the state’s unaccountable voucher scheme — yet again — is a vote to divert even more taxpayer funds from public schools, which are attended by more than 165,000 Granite State students.”

“The state of New Hampshire is still failing to meet its constitutional duty to fully fund its public schools,” said Howes. “Remember, this is also the same Legislature that earlier this year decided feeding hungry children in public schools, whose families earn up to 350% of the poverty level, was too expensive. The vote to expand school vouchers does not reflect Granite State values and is not what voters want.”

Part-time teachers won’t have to be certified if bill is signed into law

HB 1298 would end the requirement for part-time teachers to hold a state Board of Education credential, provided they work less than 30 hours a week, pass a criminal record check, and follow the educator code of conduct. It passed the Senate on a voice vote.

Sen. Carrie Gendreau, R-Littleton, said the bill would mitigate teacher shortages and enhance New Hampshire schools.

Sen. Sue Prentiss, D-West Lebanon, said that while she’s not against bringing in a special educator from the community to schools, she sees the bill as creating a “secondary system that could start to break apart the fundamental profession of teaching in the state of New Hampshire.”

Tuttle said teachers are professionals who have undergone education programs that allow them to effectively serve their students.

“Studies have shown that teacher quality is the most powerful indicator of student achievement within the school,” Tuttle wrote in a statement following the vote. “While New Hampshire is grappling with a teacher shortage issue, this bill is misguided and will negatively impact Granite State students by lowering standards for teachers in our public schools.”

As all the bills were amended in the Senate, they will go back to the House for another vote.

Editor’s note: State Sen. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, is the wife of Howard Altschiller, Seacoast Media Group’s executive editor.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: NH Senate passes bills to allow book banning, uncertified teachers

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