For most people who professionally or recreationally follow state government activities, the mere mention of “JLCAR” makes their eyes twitch and their heads shake.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules reviews the rules that executive agencies write indicating how they will carry out their responsibilities to carry out the precepts of the laws.
Last week, the State Board of Education released its final rules for the new Education Freedom Account program.
Last summer, JLCAR approved temporary rules to allow the program to begin for the 2021-22 school year, but noted that there was still a lot of work to be done on the permanent rules.
The committee staff had many objections and corrections, some very significant, and the members wanted many of these issues resolved before approving the permanent rules.
Late last year, the state board approved its attorneys’ proposal for the final rules, knowing there were disagreements in key areas with JLCAR attorneys.
But as Board Chairman Drew Cline pointed out at the time, some of the key areas need to be resolved through legislation because the EFA Act conflicts with current laws, in particular in the field of special education.
The bill essentially established two paths to special education certification, and the new one did not keep up with current requirements.
The state board said the intent was not for students in school districts to bear the burden of determining special education certification.
As originally written, any “medical professional” anywhere in the country could determine that the child had a disability and this was replaced by the medical professional with some expertise on the subject.
However, as attorney Gerald M. Zelin, representing the NH Association of Special Education Administrators, has told the board and committee on several occasions, legally, receiving special education benefits is an ongoing process. two step.
The first is that the student must have a disability, and the second is that the disability creates a need for special instruction or services.
The second step is to assess the student in an educational setting and develop a personalized education plan for the student.
Merely declaring the disability is not sufficient under the law to qualify for additional services and additional money that a parent of a child would receive under the EPT program.
In a letter to JLCAR, Zelin said the extra money doesn’t even need to be spent on special education services.
“(The rule) invites parents to circumvent all of these processes by simply obtaining a ‘determination’ from a ‘medical professional’ that the student ‘has a disabling condition,'” he wrote. “Ironically, while Ed 804.01©(2) offers special education bonuses to children who are not truly eligible for special education, RSA 194-F does not require parents to spend voucher dollars on special education. ‘special education’.
Other issues relate to which school district is responsible for paying for special education services if the child’s parents place the child in another school district under the program.
The rules proposed by the ministry included a list of issues that must be dealt with by the Legislative Assembly, mainly due to conflicts with existing laws.
After the committee’s legislative services attorney reviewed the issues with the rules at the JLCAR meeting on Friday, the committee deferred action saying more work needed to be done.
The problems with the rules indicate that much more scrutiny needed to be done over the legislation, which was pushed through last session by including it in the two-year budget package.
But the program is operational and more than 1,600 students are enrolled at a cost of more than $8 million, although education commissioner Frank Edelblut has estimated that around 30 students will participate in the first year at a cost of less than $300,000.
The law establishing the program allows the Department of Education to levy whatever is necessary to pay for grants from the Education Trust Fund.
If the grants exceed the amount of money in the trust fund, the state general fund will have to pay the grants.
You rarely see this kind of unlimited levy on the general funds of the state.
The extra money might not be an issue this year, as the general fund has a revenue surplus of $129 million at mid-year, but it could be an issue in the future.
The Education Trust Fund was created to provide matching grants to school districts, and then per-pupil grants to charter schools and certain other education costs were added to the obligation.
The Freedom Account program was hailed earlier this session by parents and students who participate in it when a bill was heard to adjust its budget to appropriations.
However, it is also clear that the law has not received the scrutiny it should have before being approved and signed into law by Governor Chris Sununu.
And it is clear that there is still work to be done to eliminate the inconsistencies and the unlimited financial implications.
The question is whether this legislature will be willing to make adjustments, or whether that will fall to future legislatures facing a larger task.
Parents and children of the Freedom Account program would be wise to research whether past legislatures have delivered on their promises. It’s not a very good record, especially when it comes to education.
Veteran journalist Garry Rayno’s Distant Dome explores a broader perspective on New Hampshire’s Statehouse. Contact him at [email protected]