After months of debate and strong opposition from educators, the State Board of Education has approved draft rules that allow students to receive high school credits for approved extracurricular activities.
The plan - called Learn Everywhere - allows businesses and nonprofits that receive approval from the state board to offer programs to students for high school credit. Districts are required to accept these credits even if they don’t meet the standards of local school boards.
At the board's meeting Thursday, supporters praised the plan as a way to increase student choice and expand opportunities for highschoolers whose public schools don't align with their passions or learning styles.
Educators reiterated their opposition to the plan, arguing that it cuts local schools and teachers out of the learning process and favors wealthy families who can pay for afterschool activities.
Some critics admonished the board and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut for prioritizing Learn Everywhere.
“I am distressed and disappointed that the Board has spent so much energy on the Learn Everywhere program at a time when our public school system across the state is facing a severe funding crisis,” said Louise Spencer, a member of the Kent Street Coalition.
But board chairman Drew Cline defended Learn Everywhere, saying it would expand opportunities to highschoolers regardless of income or zip code.
“I think this is a real enhancement of equity,” he said. “The real equity problem we have in New Hampshire is that we have school districts that are tied to property taxes that kids are forced to go to, so if you live in a property-poor town, you’re stuck in that school district.”
Cline said that schools' current alternative education programs - extended learning opportunities, or ELO’s - weren’t doing enough. BAE Systems, for example, offer ELO’s to students but has to coordinate slightly different versions with each district.
“The reason they support [Learn Everywhere] is because they understand with this, they can scale it statewide,” he said. “They can offer one program that every kid in every district can have access to. That’s the point of Learn Everywhere - to make sure we can scale this.”
In the initial rules, students would have been able to receive all of their credits from Learn Everywhere programs, effectively allowing them to receive a public school diploma without taking any classes at that school. The current version has reduced the amount of Learn Everywhere credits that districts are required to put towards a diploma to one third.
Carl Ladd, the executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, says the plan opens up risks for students and problems with accountability.
“People are still unsure about what the rules say, how they're going to be enforced, and who's going to be involved,” he said. “It’s going to create a real mess.”
Ladd and dozens of other school administrators and educators met with Commissioner Edelblut and Cline to share their concerns. Despite modifications to the plan, they all still oppose Learn Everywhere.
In an interview with NHPR after the vote, Cline said the State Board of Education should not be dictated by educators when it develops policies.
“The SBOE is not made up of educators. By law the SBOE is made up of lay people. We have to have that back and forth between people who are inside the industry and people who are looking at it from the outside,” he said.
The Learn Everywhere rules now head to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) for final approval.