New Hampshire is embroiled in an ongoing controversy over extended learning opportunities—programs that allow students to earn credit for experience they gain outside of their regular school classes.
Many schools in New Hampshire have extended learning programs. Students can gain credit for volunteering in their communities, working with area businesses or nonprofits, completing independent studies, or taking classes offered by other institutions.
Benefits of extended learning opportunities
There’s broad agreement that ELO programs are a good idea. They allow students to explore broader areas of learning than the regular school classes make available. ELOs can also offer an alternative environment that fits better with a particular child’s learning style.
Debate over who administers ELOs
The controversy over ELOs is largely focused on the question of who administers them.
Until now, ELO programs have been organized by individual schools and school districts. Schools might have a designated ELO coordinator who approves granting credit for a program. ELO offerings can therefore vary from school to school.
This year, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut announced the creation of a new Learn Everywhere program. That program would see businesses or other organizations offering ELOs apply to the state Board of Education for approval. If they get a thumbs-up, that program is then approved for credit at any New Hampshire public school. Schools would be required to allow students to earn at least one-third of their credits through Learn Everywhere programs.
Edelblut argues that by approving ELOs at the state level, schools are saved time and money on administration. All students in New Hampshire would be assured access to these programs regardless of which school they attend.
The state school administrators’ associations and teachers’ unions disagree. “We believe that as proposed, the ‘Learn Everywhere’ rules trample local control, are highly skewed toward wealthy families, grant graduation credits from non-accredited, non-credential sources, and provide little oversight and limited protections to students with disabilities and their families,” they said in a joint letter.
Learn Everywhere sparks policy war
Learn Everywhere was authorized by a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2018. Edelblut announced the creation of the program in December 2018, and the state Board of Education approved the rules for how it would operate in June 2019.
The now Democrat-controlled Legislature opposes the program. Legislators passed a bill in 2019 that would have given schools the power to decide which approved Learn Everywhere programs they would accept. That bill was vetoed by Gov. Sununu, and legislators failed to muster enough votes for an override.
The next attempt to overturn the program came through the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. In a vote in October, the JLCAR voted against Learn Everywhere, with votes split along party lines. While the JLCAR’s disapproval doesn’t stop the program flat, it does mean the Department of Education would be liable if there was any legal action against Learn Everywhere if it moves forward.
There will be a few different efforts in the Legislature to repeal or change the Learn Everywhere program in 2020. Text for those bills and resolutions isn’t yet available.