Education

GOP Lawmakers Pass Bill Making Public School Curriculum Optional [UPDATED]

As the country shifts its attention from the Iowa caucus to the upcoming primary in New Hampshire, the state’s Republican legislators are busy passing some of the most radically conservative laws in the country. Today the GOP-controlled Senate passed HB 542, which allows parents to pull their children out of any school lesson that the parent objects to, forcing the school to design an alternative lesson. Their House colleagues approved the measure earlier last year.

The measure is so extreme that even the conservative Union-Leader editorial board denounced it in July:

House Bill 542 would have amended state law to “Require school districts to adopt a policy allowing an exception to specific course material based on a parent’s or legal guardian’s determination that the material is objectionable.” Though that sounds appealing at first blush, it is so broad that it would make public education essentially an a la carte menu.

It is true that public schools are too inflexible and don’t allow enough choice. They would benefit greatly from the competition that comes from charter schools and vouchers. But this bill put the burden on each public school to create a curriculum catered to each family’s individual tastes. Schools would have to provide alternatives to any instruction a family opposed, and a family could oppose anything for any reason. That is neither workable, nor sensible.

The bill will now go to Gov. John Lynch’s (D) desk. Lynch, who vetoed an earlier version of the same bill, is expected to nix it once again. He pointed out in his last veto message that the bill failed to clearly define what material would be objectionable — allowing any parent to withdraw their child for almost any reason.

New Hampshire’s Democratic Party immediately condemned the move, calling it “an unprecedented attack” on “New Hampshire children’s right to a quality education.” “In fact it will end education in New Hampshire as we know it, allowing children to be removed from any lessons their parents choose, algebra, English language arts, health education, American history, the civil or women’s rights movement, science, absolutely anything,” they said.

The party chair pointed out that the bill places an enormous financial burden on cash-strapped towns and cities by requiring school districts to create a unique curriculum for each and every student.

UPDATE

An earlier version of this post said that the bill would have ended universal compulsory education in the Granite State. An earlier version of the GOP’s bill did, in fact, allow parents to pull their students out of school entirely, for any reason, but the latest version requires that an alternative lesson be provided when parents object. This still effectively allows parents to pull their children from any school lesson for any reason, making public school curriculum optional. We apologize for the error.

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