My Turn: SB 193 could free thousands of minds

For the Monitor
Published: 11/14/2017 12:15:36 AM

In the 2015-2016 school year, New Hampshire taxpayers spent $17,648.76 for every student in K-12. We are spending more this year.

At about $18,000 per year, we are spending enough to give every child a customized education. It is more than most private schools in New Hampshire charge.

Eighteen thousand dollars would allow for overseas intensive foreign-language study (Rosetta Stone can be used for intensive language training, but then what do you use the other 17,700 dollars for? Besides, foreign travel is broadening and Thai food is better than the cafeteria).

Eighteen thousand dollars would pay for specialized athletic training, or any sort of trade school, or fund apprenticeship and internship programs. Many young entrepreneurs have funded their startups for less.

There is enough money for education in New Hampshire to become the best in the world.

But much of the $18,000 in our present system doesn’t reach students. It doesn’t go to pay for the things that matter in 2017. The money pays for a rigid bureaucracy, for buildings full of experts that never see the student. We fund an education Potemkin village; most real education occurs outside the public system.

Our taxes serve primarily to maintain the class barrier in education.

The well-off go to private schools selected to match their interests and abilities, or they home school, or they indenture themselves to million-dollar mortgages to purchase entrance to “public” schools as exclusive as Kimball Union or Phillips Exeter.

The opponents of school choice live on this upper side of the class divide. Anti-choice politicians do not send their own children into the system that they have provided for the lower orders.

The working class are forced into obsolete, top-down, inflexible schools that were designed to produce regimented factory workers. If you have a Tipler Cylinder, that’s all very well and good – you can just buy some steampunk outfits, zip the kids back to the satanic mills of the 1800s, and they’ll fit right in.

But for parents without time travel (or those who want children to have longer life expectancies than Dickens’s characters), education has to prepare for the 2030s. Even in 2017, opportunities for mindless “employees” who can only follow direct orders are scarce. 1800s-style mill workers can be replaced by machines. Machines are good at simple, repetitive tasks such as assembly line work or writing op-eds about the U.S. public education system.

In the 21st century, anyone can succeed – anyone with computer skills, anyone self-motivated, anyone used to making their own path in life.

Letting children create their own paths is the point of Senate Bill 193, which will be voted on by the N.H. House Education Committee today. It will let parents have direct access to education money; just the state aid amount, about $3,300.

The result of a parent using the $3,300 education savings account, or ESA, program will be to raise the per-pupil funding in the local public school by an average of about $14,700 (well above the variable cost per student). One hundred percent of the town-raised amount will stay in the public schools. The parents will pay for the rest of the tuition.

ESAs, or any school choice program, aren’t going to “make education cheap.” What they can do is allow families to spend more money on alternative learning methods. The additional money will be targeted to individual children, by parents, to let them find their own paths.

This already happens in the existing New Hampshire town-tuition program. Croydon students that were failing in public school were allowed to try a Montessori school (which, as most private schools do, charged less than the public school), and they thrived. ESAs will bring many more choices to thousands of other New Hampshire children.

The old slogan of the United Negro College Fund was “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” That was true then and is true today. SB 193 could free thousands of minds. It would be a terrible waste not to pass it.

(Bill Walker works at medical-imaging company M2S in Lebanon.)

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