Conway School Board — Mark Hounsell 3

Conway School Board member Mark Hounsell pledged to “to fight with all my being” to stop the state Department of Education’s proposed “Learn Everywhere in innovation because it takes away local control when it comes to earning credits towards graduation. (LLOYD JONES PHOTO)

CONWAY — Local school boards received a show of support from legislators in Concord on Thursday when the state Senate voted to pass an amended version of SB 140 (the Learn Everywhere bill) by adding a key sentence: “Each local school board shall determine whether to grant academic credit for alternative, extended learning and work-based programs.”

Conway School Board member Mark Hounsell, who watched the live-stream of the Senate on Thursday morning, was thrilled by the amendment. Within minutes of the unanimous vote (24-0), Hounsell sent the following to each senator: “Thank you for your support of SB 140 as amended. I join with many in recognizing the actions by the Senate today was a strong vote of support of local school boards.”

At the Feb. 25 school board meeting, Hounsell and his colleagues agreed to write a letter to the state to oppose the Learn Everywhere initiative created by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut and unveiled in January. Board members oppose the innovation because it takes away local control when it comes to students earning credits towards graduation.

“The new state rules and proposal will give more control to the state DOE,” Hounsell said at the time. “It will also require districts to award high school credits to any program, from anywhere, that can get a state department approval regardless if it passes the rigors of our local high school or not."

In addition to eroding local control, he said the proposal could weaken local education standards, ultimately diminishing the value of a Kennett High School diploma.

In January, during a visit to the Sun, Edelblut spoke about the new innovation.

“This really comes out of a couple of observations that I’ve had from going around the state and talking with different people,” he said, adding, "Learn Everywhere is a program that really tries to capture learning that is taking place in our communities, all over the place.”

The bill now goes to the House for its members to take action on it.

“Local school districts should be very encouraged by the strong corrective action on the part of the state Senate with the passing of SB 140,” Hounsell said by phone on Thursday. “The unanimous bipartisan support of the upper chamber in protecting the integrity and heritage of public high schools sends a strong message to the state Department of Education and the state Board of Education that the proposed Learn Everywhere rules are an overreach of their authority. Hopefully, the House will complete the correction by passing SB 140 as amended.”

School Superintendent Kevin Richard intends to discuss Learn Everywhere during his administrator’s report at the Conway School Board’s meeting this Monday (6:30 p.m. in the Professional Development Center at Kennett Middle School).

Supporters of the proposal, Gov. Chris Sununu and Edelblut say it would “give students opportunities to pursue their interests outside of school and connect with their community.”

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jay Kahn (D-Keene).

The section of the proposed rule that Hounsell objects to is Part C: “Ed 1406.02 Issuing Credit for Graduation. (a) Certificates shall be used to grant credit for graduation. (b) The student shall submit the completion certificate to the high school where they wish to be granted credit, or they shall not receive credit. (c) Approved New Hampshire schools shall grant students with valid completion certificates high school credit leading to graduation in the area enumerated.”

“I contend that high school diplomas are a legal property that is entrusted by local school districts to locally elected school boards,” Hounsell said. “The school boards award diplomas to students who have successfully past the rigors of a locally developed curriculum. I doubt that the state has any legal right to commandeer local high school diplomas. I have no doubt the state has no moral right for their proposed action that would do so.”

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