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NH Republicans oppose bill requiring background checks at schools getting EFA funds

Bags, jackets and raincoats hang on both sides of the hallway. Colorful art made by the kindergarten classes is plastered on the walls. At the end of the hall is a classroom with open doors.
Michelle Liu
/
NHPR

This story was originally produced by the New Hampshire Bulletin, an independent local newsroom that allows NHPR and other outlets to republish its reporting.

Legislation to require background checks for employees of nonpublic schools that receive Education Freedom Account Program funds appears unlikely to pass after Republicans on the House Education Committee argued it is unnecessary and overreaching.

House Bill 628 would require employees of any organization that contracts with the state of New Hampshire to provide in-person instruction to undergo a background check. The bill would extend that requirement for staff of any educational entity that receives funds under the Education Tax Credit and the Education Freedom Account (EFA) Program, as well as any education program approved under the state’s Learn Everywhere program.

Democrats on the committee, who support the bill, say it would bring new security measures to recent programs allowing families to use state resources for nonpublic education. Currently, state law requires that public school districts conduct a criminal history records check on every applicant for any position in the school district, and bars districts from hiring employees until they pass that check.

Rep. Linda Tanner, a Sunapee Democrat, said that as more families in the state receive public school adequacy funds for education freedom accounts, which can be used for tuition at nonpublic schools, the state should be proactive in checking those schools.

“It’s the compelling interest of the state to have those children be safe,” she said during a discussion before the House Education Committee.

But Republicans on the committee disagreed, arguing that it is the role of parents, not the state, to determine whether they feel safe sending their children to a nonpublic school.

“These are people that (parents) trust,” said Rep. Kristin Noble, a Bedford Republican, referring to staff at private schools. “Why the need for a background check?”

Republican Rep. Glenn Cordelli of Tuftonboro added that most private schools say they already do conduct background checks for employees, in part because it’s requested by their insurance companies.

And he said that when the public adequacy funds are passed on to parents through education freedom accounts, the funds should no longer be considered public funds. Because the schools are not agents of the state, he argued, the state shouldn’t have an interest in mandating background checks.

“I think we’re stepping into territory that we shouldn’t be in terms of putting those restrictions on them,” Cordelli said.

Another Republican representative, Arlene Quaratiello, of Atkinson, said background check requirements can be onerous, comparing it to the public library she works at that requires background checks for anyone reading stories to children or interested in holding chess classes with library supervision. “I see how that discourages volunteers from just coming to story time and reading to children,” she said.

But Tanner, a former school teacher, pushed back, noting that for every job she’s had in a school district, she has had to submit to a criminal history check.

“I’m not insulted by having a background check,” she said. “I feel as though I have nothing to hide. There’s no reason for me not to comply with a background check.”

She added: “This is not an intrusion on people; this is a safety net for kids.”

The bill was retained in committee earlier this year and has not received a House floor vote. Cordelli predicted that the partisan disagreements meant it would likely receive a 10-10 vote when the evenly divided committee takes it up in November. It will then move to the full House for a vote.

Republicans are pushing for a bill that would allow public school districts to conduct more background checks “on any group of employees on a more frequent or reoccurring basis” than currently required. Democrats have opposed that bill, House Bill 267, arguing it opens up some employees for targeting.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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