Students make the case that schools need extra money from the state because of the pandemic

  • New Hampshire students discussed the state education budget at a press conference on Feb. 17, 2021. —Courtesy photo

Monitor staff
Published: 2/17/2021 4:53:58 PM

Students around New Hampshire are seeing firsthand the results of budget shortfalls as schools scramble to deliver education during a year that requires new tools and approaches to learning.

Now, students are saying school funding needs higher priority in Gov. Chris Sununu’s 2022-2023 budget, and are asking for specific actions that will help improve instruction.

Students from several area high schools and universities shared fears about the success of their own schools during an online forum Wednesday hosted by the New Hampshire Young Democrats organization, and said the state needs to invest more in education amid the pandemic.

Sarah West, a student at Concord High School, said she feels the proposed budget isn’t allocating education funding toward the most important areas. While Sununu’s budget has proposed putting $30 million in surplus money from the Education Trust Fund into one-time grants for infrastructure, building and classroom improvements, West said pandemic-specific school supplies are more of a concern.

“Remote and hybrid learning requires new materials such as projectors, zoom-optimized Chromebooks, cleaning supplies, etc.,” West said. “My school and other school districts in the state lack these necessary materials, however the governor’s proposed budget does not address these needs.”

West said that in her math class at Concord High, students are still waiting for the school to provide a projector so the remote students can see what the teacher is writing on the board.

Sununu’s budget proposal promises not to cut education funding, but to maintain the same level of education spending as previous budgets. He also proposes spending more money per child on public education this year than “ever before.”

New Hampshire is getting $250 million in CARES Act funding from the federal government for education, which Sununu described as “more financial opportunity than schools ever imagined.”

Michael Roderick, a student at the University of New Hampshire, said he’s concerned that the funding will be used up quickly, and won’t be enough.

“You can talk about how grant funding for infrastructure, particularly for education, is an increase in some way, shape or form, but when you come down to it that’s an increase in a specific area, it’s not going to help students that much,” said Roderick.

Zoe McGuirk, a student at Newmarket Jr./Sr. High School, said that while her school began the year with the intent to be in person, it has had to pivot to remote four or five times due to lack of necessary staffing.

“It’s not even an issue of students contracting COVID, it’s an issue of just being so severely understaffed that we do not have the numbers of people to stay open and remain functional,” McGuirk said.

In remote learning, McGuirk says many students still don’t have the right technology and WiFi, and while she says the school has done a good job of providing Chromebooks, it has still been difficult for some students to access the tech resources they need to be successful in remote learning.

One budget challenge schools are facing this year is data skewed due to COVID-19, impacting how much aid they receive. Federal grants giving all students access to free and reduced lunch during COVID meant fewer students signed up for the usual programs this year, resulting in potential loss of enrollment-based funds.

“If schools can barely afford to sanitize their classrooms in a pandemic, its going to be hard to feed a lot of kids that need help,” West said.

In his budget address, Sununu promised to address these skewed metrics to make sure no district gets left behind.

Students also expressed concerns about continuing high cost of tuition at state schools, despite a lot of the education being remote this year.

Davis Bernstein, a student at Keene State College, said he believes state universities need an increase in state funding with the hope that institutions could then lower their tuition costs for students during the pandemic, and prepare for worst-case outbreak scenarios. Sununu’s budget plan includes a student debt relief plan to help graduates to plan to work in-state, which was unsuccessful last year, under the Democratic legislature.

“With the simple fact that students are not in the classrooms as much, they should not be having to pay as much,” Bernstein said. “But tuition costs are still incredibly high, and cuts are rare and very few and far between.”

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