Executive Council approves extension of Prenda learning pod program

By: - December 8, 2021 2:43 pm
State House dome underneath a cloudy sky

Democrats argued that the costs of climate change are real. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The Executive Council voted Wednesday to extend a $5.8 million contract with a national company that provides “learning pods” to public schools, advancing a school choice program even as take-up in the existing program has been slow. 

In a 4-1 party-line vote, the council authorized a two-year extension of the state’s existing contract with Prenda. The contract, which uses federal funds, will last until Sept. 30, 2024, and allow Prenda programs to lease or buy space to carry out lessons. 

First approved by the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery in April under the state of emergency, the Prenda contract allows public school districts to set up “microschools.” Those schools allow students to replace traditional public school instruction with learning pods administered by trained tutors. Under the contract, Prenda, which has full jurisdiction over the curriculum, would receive $5,000 in federal funds per student per year. 

The contract was touted by Edelblut and others as a way to provide a catch-up opportunity for children who had suffered learning loss during remote learning. The pods could give students a more intimate learning environment with closer attention to individual students, Edelblut argued. 

“This instructional model is a small in-person multi-age grouping of students in a trauma sensitive environment that allows children to stabilize, rekindle curiosity, and accelerate learning so that they might catch back up with their peers,” Edelblut wrote in a letter to the council. 

But eight months in, the program has attracted few takers among public schools, with only five of the state’s 106 public school districts deciding to opt into the program. Twenty-one community pods have been created – pods that are not part of the public school system but available for families who homeschool or attend private school. 

In total, New Hampshire’s Prenda program is serving around 100 students, according to the department. 

In his letter, Edelblut said the slow pace has been in part a result of staffing challenges. “Principally as a result of constrained availability of qualified staffing, the program’s initial start is slower than anticipated,” he wrote. 

But programs have also struggled to find locations to hold the classes. A learning pod in Londonderry has been using the local YMCA for its programs, the department said.

The new contract will allow Prenda to use some of the $5.8 million toward acquiring space to host the lessons.

Republicans on the council voted in favor of the contract, with little discussion. But Councilor Cinde Warmington, the lone Democrat on the council, argued that the program had not generated enough interest to justify extending the contract. 

Instead, Warmington argued, the money should be repurposed into another program. 

“Why would we want to subscribe to this for another two years (and) tie up these funds, which could be used to help address learning loss in our public schools?” Warmington said.

Warmington said she had received an email with signatures of 260 people ahead of the vote urging the council to vote down the contract. 

An effort to table the vote by Warmington and Republican Councilor Janet Stevens of Rye failed, 3-2. 

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.