By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Learn Everywhere, a controversial statewide education plan that would let students gain up to a third of their graduation requirements outside the classroom, experienced a setback in its implementation on Thursday.
The joint legislative committee on rules voted 6-4 to object to the preliminary rules for the program at the end of a packed meeting in the Legislative Office Building.
This means Frank Edelblut, commissioner of the Department of Education, and the state Board of Education need to go back to rework the language of their preliminary rule over the next 25 days.
The committee will then have a chance to consider the changes and vote again on the measure, later this summer or early fall.
Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, argued that the language in the measure is contrary to existing rules, that it may exceed the state’s authority over the state’s 165 school districts and that it violates the “bifurcated” system of local decision-making for schools on how to get kids to a diploma, among other considerations.
While not all the members of JLCAR agreed with all of Kahn’s reasons for objecting, the majority said the document need work.
The legal team for the committee concurred that there “may” be problems the way it is now written.
Supporters of Learn Everywhere want a re-write of existing state rules to fully develop the concept of gaining up to one-third of education credits for graduation outside of the walls of the school.
It is in these practical work environments, they argue, some students can learn the skills they need to thrive and more fully understand the world they are entering.
But others, including the major teachers’ unions, school administrators and many individuals said they worry that this measure is overreaching and meddling with local decision making.
Edelblut asserted that the objections come from four groups who do not want to see the state become more progressive in its educational offerings and that they just support “the status quo.”
That was met with grumbles in the room and sharply rejected by some legislators who spoke.
Rep. Mary Heath, D-Manchester, said she was a member of the committee that worked on the measure.
“I am a huge proponent of extended learning opportunities,” she said. But she asked Edelblut if this would usurp the authority of the local school board. She said he told her “no.”
Barrett M. Christina, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, opposed the language of the law and said it is “unclear.”
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is a big fan of the measure. He and a majority of the state Board of Education, which voted 6-5 to support Learn Everywhere, along with the Business and Industry Association, have been in support.
Educators said there are extended learning opportunities already but none of them are mandated by the state.
But Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, argued that Learn Everywhere is an option and not a requirement, and that many property-poor school districts like his own could use the opportunity to allow private sector expertise they cannot afford to help educate students