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Bill Duncan: A crucial election for state education

For the Monitor
Published: 10/4/2018 12:10:34 AM

There are few New Hampshire institutions more important to the future of our state than our public education system. When we give our children a good education we teach them more than just chemistry or history: We give them the tools to think creatively, imagine new possibilities and set us all on a path toward a more prosperous future.

This is what our great New Hampshire schools are doing for us today. Our elected officials should support the hard work of our school administrators and educators, not undercut it. But it is now clear that the resources our children deserve will never be available as long as Chris Sununu is governor.

While our public schools have been successful, we should always be searching for ways to improve them so that all New Hampshire children, regardless of where they come from, how they worship or what they look like, have an opportunity to succeed.

But Gov. Sununu’s education agenda is fundamentally destructive to our public school students. His policies appear to be passed down directly from President Trump’s unqualified and out-of-touch Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Her destructive intentions have been clear since she was nominated. But that didn’t stop Sununu from endorsing her nomination and installing as New Hampshire’s education commissioner a man who has modeled his own tenure after that of DeVos – playing politics at every turn and supporting an anti-student agenda.

During his confirmation hearing, Frank Edeblut said, “I don’t need specific education experience to lead the N.H. Department of Education.” Once confirmed, however, Gov. Sununu’s education commissioner used his leadership position to deride our public schools as failures that should be replaced by private and home schools. His pilot program became Senate Bill 193, the private school voucher bill Gov. Sununu sought as his signature legislative achievement in the last Legislature.

In its first 11 years, the voucher bill would have used $100 million in limited state education funding to send 2,000 students to private and home schools, leaving a hole that local property-tax payers would have had to fill through increased tax rates and reduced school programs. All this to replace public schools serving students of all capacities from all regions of the state with selective private and religious schools that are free to discriminate.

Many thoughtful Republicans joined with Democrats in opposition to this costly and ineffective private school subsidy. Despite three separate negative votes on private school vouchers, Gov. Sununu tried to subvert the will of the people’s elected representatives by attaching his failed bill as an amendment to an unrelated bill and ramming it through the Senate late at night.

Fortunately, that attempt also failed, but the governor seems not to have learned his lesson. His takeaway from this rebuke wasn’t that he should rethink his education agenda, but that he should try harder next time. Senior House Republicans report that next year’s strategy is already in place.

And that’s what makes this election so very important. If we give Gov. Sununu another term, we are giving him a license to push a voucher program we know is bad for our students and schools.

There is much work to be done to ensure that all New Hampshire students have access to the same opportunities and resources. But that won’t be accomplished by defunding our public schools and creating a divided system of the haves and have-nots. That’s why it is so important we elect a leader who is committed to our children and their education. We will not only help our students, but we will help our entire state prepare a next generation of thoughtful leaders.

(Bill Duncan of New Castle is a former member of the New Hampshire State Board of Education.)

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