State Rep. Mel Myler: Defeat of voucher plan is a win for the state

For the Monitor
Saturday, May 12, 2018

Thursday marked a huge win for New Hampshire students, families, towns and schools as Gov. Chris Sununu’s school voucher plan was rejected in the New Hampshire House for the third time in two weeks. Even after his controversial bill, Senate Bill 193, was placed in interim study last week in the House, with several Republicans joining Democrats in their opposition, Senate Republicans brought the language back to life as an amendment to House Bill 1636 in a last-ditch effort to salvage Sununu’s legislative agenda.

This third and final vote was to the benefit of students, teachers and school administrators, all of whom have spoken up in recent months to object to Sununu’s unconstitutional bill that would have diverted millions of taxpayer dollars away from public schools. The repeated bipartisan rebuke of this legislation sends a clear signal that Republican and Democratic legislators alike will not stand for Sununu’s regressive and damaging education policies.

Of the many ways this bill would have hurt New Hampshire students, the diversion of funds away from our state’s nationally recognized schools was perhaps the most egregious. Sununu’s law sought to use taxpayer dollars to fund unregulated private and religious schools. According to Reaching Higher NH, this diversion of funds would have devastated school districts and public schools across the state, costing school districts $266 million over the life of the bill.

For the past few months, Sununu has, with increasing desperation, tried to create an education system where students would be forced to choose between using a voucher to attend an unregulated and potentially unqualified school or else remain in a school struggling to account for funding cuts that would have come from SB 193.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that vouchers hurt students, Sununu continued to support the voucher bill, making it one of his key legislative priorities. In doing so, Sununu chose to heed the unqualified advice of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut and the Koch brother-funded Americans for Prosperity over the students, teachers and school board members who have a genuine understanding of New Hampshire’s school system.

His commitment to DeVos, Edelblut and his donors at the expense of New Hampshire’s students is sadly what we’ve come to expect from this governor. With Sununu, Granite Staters get what we need only once Sununu’s friends, donors and the Sununu empire get what they want.

Luckily, Sununu’s leadership failures overpowered his corrupt agenda. In the past months, the governor failed to lobby, negotiate, or communicate with committee members and legislators alike. Instead, Sununu ineffectively tried to govern by cajoling fellow Republicans and photo-ops, yet did not recognize the major flaws and issues with this bill that could not be ignored by Democrats or Republicans.

While SB 193 did not become law, that in no way excuses the damage Sununu tried to inflict on our public schools. We can’t forget the radical agenda of Sununu simply because he doesn’t have the leadership skills to implement it. The only way for us to secure New Hampshire public schools for students is to remove Sununu and any representative who supported school vouchers from office and replace them with legislators who are committed to improving our public schools.

Remember, on key issues numbers count. The party that has the numbers on their side, prevails on key issues like this.

(Rep. Mel Myler of Contoocook is the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee and is serving in his third House term. He is the retired executive director of NEA New Hampshire.)