The Tea Party dominated New Hampshire Legislature on Wednesday overrode the governor's veto to enact a new law allowing parents to object to any part of the school curriculum.
The state House voted 255-112 and Senate 17-5 to enact H.B. 542, which will allow parents to request an alternative school curriculum for any subject to which they register an objection. Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed the measure in July, saying the bill would harm education quality and give parents control over lesson plans.
"For example, under this bill, parents could object to a teacher's plan to: teach the history of France or the history of the civil or women's rights movements," Lynch wrote in his veto message. "Under this bill, a parent could find 'objectionable' how a teacher instructs on the basics of algebra. In each of those cases, the school district would have to develop an alternative educational plan for the student. Even though the law requires the parents to pay the cost of alternative, the school district will still have to bear the burden of helping develop and approve the alternative. Classrooms will be disrupted by students coming and going, and lacking shared knowledge."
Under the terms of the bill, which was sponsored by state Rep. J.R. Hoell (R-Dunbarton), a parent could object to any curriculum or course material in the classroom. The parent and school district would then determine a new curriculum or texts for the child to meet any state educational requirements for the subject matter. The parent would be responsible for paying the cost of developing the new curriculum. The bill also allows for the parent's name and reason for objection to be sealed by the state.
Hoell stressed the new law could allow parents to address both moral and academic objections to parts of the curriculum. The lawmaker said he could imagine the provision being utilized by parents who disagree with the "whole language" approach to reading education or the Everyday Math program.
"What if a school chooses to use whole language and the parent likes phonics, which is a better long-term way to teach kids to read?" Hoell said to HuffPost.
The bill originally included provisions to end compulsory attendance that were taken out by fellow legislators, Hoell noted, saying he would work to address the compulsory attendance issue this year. He said he has seen research showing that non-compulsory attendance equaled better academic performance in Singapore before attendance was required. In addition he noted that it would all bring a market-based approach to education, noting that college and graduate students are not required to attend classes.
"If you can afford it, you go after it," he said.
"Instead of having a reasoned and dispassionate discussion about alternatives, when complaints were made, the parents were falsely accused of trying to ban the book," Hoell wrote. "Rather than find a solution, the parents were forced to remove their son from the public school and instruct him at home."
Hoell also said this bill would allow for parents to object to the distribution of condoms and lubricants in sex education classes. In his veto message, Lynch said that parents can have children opt out of sex education classes, which Hoell disputed in his writing, saying only parents with religious objections could opt out.
The law's passage comes as the New Hampshire legislature has taken a more conservative tone, fueled in part by the election of Tea Party-backed legislators in the 2010 election. Other issues pending before the state government include a bill to only allow legislature-approved candidates to run for the U.S. Senate, an end to the teaching of evolution in the schools and a provision to allow the legislature to dissolve the judiciary. Other bills pushed by Hoell include a provision establishing a committee to study the impact of compulsory school attendance on families, and a measure withdrawing the state from the federal No Child Left Behind law.
State Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley released a statement Wednesday afternoon calling the bill "reckless and irresponsible" and touting his agreement with the conservative-leaning Union Leader, which spoke against Republican lawmakers by objecting to the proposal.
"HB542 is an unprecedented attack on New Hampshire children's right to a quality education," he said. "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."
This report has been updated to include comment from state Rep. J.R. Hoell.