My Turn: School choice is common sense for New Hampshire

For the Monitor
Published: 1/26/2018 12:20:05 AM

Senate Bill 193 has generated a lot of public reaction – much of it deliberately misleading. The bill establishes an education freedom savings account program. Its purpose is quite simple: to give parents more choices over their children’s education with the goal of providing a competitive education and college-ready students.

For parents, this is an opportunity for their children to receive an education best suited for their child’s specific needs, which often means looking outside of that family’s town or ZIP code. And for some, this could mean a public education outside of a public school.

Under this bill, the parent who signs a contract with a scholarship organization agrees to certain conditions. The money may be used for textbooks, tuition and fees at any public school, to name a few.

Opponents state that if parents can choose the school for their child, this will lead to the demise of public schools. But why? Great schools will have a waiting list to get in, while schools not supplying quality instruction will fall out of favor – but isn’t this for the benefit of our kids?

New Hampshire schools receive a minimum rate of approximately $3,600 for their base adequate education funding from the state for each student. That money should follow the child wherever he or she goes. While that may not cover full private school tuition, it will help. Some parents will choose to home school, and might use that money for educational supplies, tutoring or music lessons. Money raised through local property taxes will continue to go to the public school.

Should a percentage of students transfer out of a public school, the school staffing and attendance costs should go down. Even after considering the fixed costs, school budgets in individual towns should be lower and the savings passed on to property owners. These taxpayers would now have a little extra money to further their child’s education in whichever way they choose.

It is understandable that the public school unions are concerned about this reduction in students and do not look upon school choice favorably. Over the years, there has been a general decrease in the number of children registering for public school, but schools have yet to deal with declining enrollment. Local budgets continue to inflate without responding to competition brought in by charter schools, for example.

Another issue raised by opponents is the constitutionality of school choice. That has been settled, in New Hampshire cases including the Department of Education v. Croydon School Board, et al. (220-2015-cv-146), and Duncan v. State of New Hampshire, 102A.3d 913.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Five Sisters opinion of 1969 is also very apropos as it states: “The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations,” Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 26 U.S. 510.

A recent poll by GenForward published in USA Today in September 2017, found that among millennials, 70-plus percent favor programs like education savings accounts. This report supports Beck Research’s findings that say 75 percent of millennials support school choice, (School Reform News, Vol. 21, No. 10, December 2017, The Heartland Institute).

Our educational system has been tweaked so many times, always with the idea of improvement, yet our students are not competitive nationally and our high school students are ill prepared for the demands of college. In a report in the Washington Post on Dec. 5, Moriah Balingit writes that United States tumbled in international rankings of reading skills among fourth-graders, “raising warning flags about students’ ability to compete with international peers.”

The bottom line is that we want our children to get the best possible education, wherever that may be, in order to stay competitive and succeed in today’s world. There are many good public schools, and excellent teachers, but we should not protect the public school system in our state to the detriment of those students it intends to serve.

We should not forget that our goal is to educate our students. Often that takes more than one kind of teaching. Let us support real school choice in New Hampshire.

(Ruth Ward, a Stoddard Republican, represents District 8 in the N.H. Senate. She also serves as vice chairwoman for the Public and Municipal Affairs Committee and on the Education and Transportation committees.)

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