Public education system attacked in legislature | New Hampshire
Change often goes unnoticed if it is done in small, quiet steps.
Singer-songwriter Mark Erelli put it another way: “We can live with anything, if it happens gradually. “
For at least the past three decades, the public education system, once the pride of the United States, has come under attack.
The reasons, motivation and money behind the offensive are often hidden and framed in terms of competition to improve the system.
And New Hampshire is no exception, although its public elementary and secondary education system is among the best in the country in almost every rankings.
The Education Funding Commission recognized this, but also recognized that not all schools are equal or provide fair opportunities for students.
This should come as no surprise to anyone, because long before the Claremont trial and the resulting Supreme Court ruling, lawmakers called on lawmakers to make it fairer for students and taxpayers.
The push over the past three decades has been to offer alternative programs and transfer public funds to the private sector and now religious education institutions.
Longtime lawmaker and educator Senator Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, had enough on Thursday and told colleagues they must support public education, not ravage it.
He said his grandparents came from Italy to work without having the opportunity to go to high school. Her father graduated from East Boston High while her mother worked in a candy factory in Cambridge.
Still, he and his siblings were given the opportunity to go to college and grow through it, he noted.
“One of the things that made America great was the ability to go to school,” D’Allesandro told colleagues, saying it was the foundation for economic improvement for families.
“We must never lose sight of the fact that the basic opportunity of a public education is transferable, leads to improvement and to become better,” he said. “If we start to dilute it, ravage it by cutting it off, we’re doing the worst thing we can do, dividing people up.”
The United States was not the first country to have free public education, some European countries once had free education up to college, but a student’s path was largely determined by others, not by child or his parents.
The country’s ancestors long ago decided that educated citizenship is essential to sustaining democracy, and in the United States the idea was to give every student the opportunity to learn, rich or poor.
The country’s first public school was Boston Latin, established in 1635 before the American Revolution.
Today public education is not perfect, but its flaws are magnified by those who seek to dismantle it to establish a “decentralized system”.
The quest to change the system in recent years began with charter schools, which were marketed as helping unsuccessful students in public schools, and many do and the most successful are those established with community consent. .
Charter schools have been freed from regulations and guidelines that public schools must adhere to, such as special education requirements, in an attempt to make them innovative and cheaper.
But most charter schools have never been financially viable without state support to replace the property taxes that fund public schools, and which might criticize property taxpayers for not wanting to pay for two schools at a time. .
School voucher programs were the most recent attempts to expand education beyond traditional public schools, but have been a hard sell to the Legislature, which until this year has rejected every proposal.
Several years ago, the legislature approved a limited voucher program funded by corporate tax credits and interest and dividends providing scholarships to students and parents seeking alternatives to traditional public schools.
The program was limited by the amount of tax credits available to pay for scholarships.
One of the top priorities for the new Republican-dominated legislature this year is one of the nation’s most extensive voucher programs, dubbed the Richard “Dick” Hinch Education Freedom Accounts, this year. the late Speaker of the House, who died of COVID-19.
The House Education Committee withheld the bill to resolve some of the problems with the proposal, but the Senate adopted a nearly identical plan and tabled it to consider including it in the budget.
Governor Chris Sununu supports “school choice” but has not officially supported the plan, although he would be hard pressed not to at least let it become law without his signature.
This is the most obvious attempt to significantly change the public education system, but there have been a series of other bills that undermine the foundations of public education, and in particular public money. for education.
Several bills have already been promulgated by Sununu.
House Bill 609 allows schools and school districts to deviate from education rules and guidelines in order to establish an innovative curriculum, and House Bill 194, which allows the Department of Education to release assessment scores from students directly to parents. Currently, school districts are releasing assessment scores, but the bill’s sponsors say the process often takes too long.
Several other important bills were approved by the Senate last week and are on their way to Sununu’s office.
House Bill 282 would allow religious schools to be included in schools that students can attend if their districts do not have their own high schools or other grade levels. The state’s constitution prohibits public funds from being spent on religious schools, but a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling could upend that.
House Bill 388 revises the process and expands the options for moving a student from one school and sending him to another – including religious schools – due to an obvious difficulty.
House Bill 71 prohibits superior courts from granting a special school district meeting for a collective agreement if voters at the annual meeting refused a contract.
House Bill 110 would ensure that state education aid goes to towns and villages which then send it to school districts, instead of the state sending the money directly to school districts. .
The sponsor of the bill said it was to ensure that additional state money approved after a school district budgeted goes to property tax relief, not spending. additional education.
House Bill 140 gives parents a private right of action to sue a school district over its decisions, often involving bullying.
Bill 242 defines adequate education with additional inputs, as the current definition does, as opposed to the definition with educational outcomes as the School Funding Commission proposed last year.
Several bills that reflected the commission’s recommendations to define adequate education and change the funding system were killed in the House and Senate this year.
Another bill would force schools to accept lessons from other schools with sponsors saying some districts refuse outside lesson work with little reason.
Many of these bills are small steps, but add to an attempt to overhaul the current system when there is less money spent in the proposed two-year operating budget for public education.
While state charter schools are “fully funded,” state aid to traditional public schools is $ 90 million less than it is this school year.
The House has decided to use $ 100 million in general funds to reduce education property taxes statewide.
The problem is, this doesn’t help school districts that need more state support, but rather provides the same relief to them and to “donor cities.”
Quite frankly, the extra money was added by the House to reduce the property tax shock associated with falling costs in the proposed budget.
This year, the push to dramatically change public education has turned from a trickle to an assault.
The assault is what prompted D’Allesandro to berate GOP lawmakers last week for ravaging the public education system.
Garry Rayno can be contacted at [email protected]