My Turn: Free education is a public good

For the Monitor
Published: 4/2/2021 9:28:41 AM

I believe that free public education is a public good and part of our social contract. It is a public service that can be utilized by everyone, governed by a democratic process of an elected school board accountable to the community. Public education offers equal opportunity and is a cornerstone of our democracy. The underlying principle is that every child, no matter the circumstances of their background or who they are, deserves a fair start in life. Public education is about lifting us up, not weeding us out. Even if you are born into a situation without money or power, you have a chance to make your life better by developing knowledge, skills, and having a window to opportunities.

The voucher system is the libertarian dream scheme to privatize education by fracturing the “system,” forcing the dismantling of our public schools, taking away any governmental oversight or requirements on education, and placing the cost of education on the pocketbooks of parents and local taxpayers. Education will be a market commodity not a public good.

New Hampshire is at that inflection point of this choice. Do we, as a state with one of the best public school systems in the nation, want to literally buy into vouchers for the education of our children? Do we want the money that the state pays into our public schools given to a third party group whose headquarters are in New York City? Do we want this organization giving public funds to parents or guardians of children without public accountability for the money? Without local community oversight, educational standards and assessments, or a safety net for dealing with issues schools face such as discrimination, disability, child abuse, food insecurity, homelessness and mental and physical problems?

What is being sold to the public as school choice is really an attempt to make the education for our children a market decision like buying a car. The difference is that unlike car dealers, private and religious schools can tell you they do not want your child or the public money you have. What is being sold as costing less is going to cost the parents of children and the taxpayer more while the state pays less and less.

The State of New Hampshire is a testing ground for the most expansive voucher system in the nation. Gov. Sununu, Commissioner of Education Edelblut and the Republican party have put our state’s public education on the selling block. They know there is great public opposition, but they are persisting. Here is the strategy which is happening: retain the voucher bill, HB 20, in the House for a backup and second chance if the Senate’s bill, SB130 fails. Next, the Republicans in the Senate push SB 130 out of the normal legislative process by hiding it in the “back” of the budget bill to avoid more public opposition and legislative scrutiny. One of the bills slips through, the governor signs it, Commissioner Edelblut gets to set the rules and New Hampshire public schools are dismantled, feat accomplished.

New Hampshire citizens, this is the time for you to take a stand, to be counted, to have your voice heard. This voucher scheme will fundamentally and detrimentally change our public school system, leave many children behind and unprotected, will cost the parents and local taxpayers more, and will undermine one of the most fundamental ideals of the American dream: equality of opportunity. You have the power now to stop vouchers by testifying at hearings, writing, and calling your legislators, your senators and the governor.

(Linda Tanner is a NH State Representative, Sullivan District 9, Education Committee)

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