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Is there any state leadership left to speak up for public school students?

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New Hampshire’s public school leadership seems to be speaking with a single voice: “Get as many kids as possible out of our public schools and into private schools – regardless of the impact on school quality or property taxes.”

We already know that Governor Sununu is a strong supporter of SB 193, the statewide voucher bill.  He says so at every opportunity.

And Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut has made the bill a front and center priority of his first year in office.  He even wrote a very odd letter to the House Finance subcommittee working on SB 193 lobbying the committee to further expand a bill that is already more damaging to his school districts than any bill in memory.

Now we have Drew Cline, the chair of the State Board of Education, weighing in on the same theme. Mr. Cline has already put himself in a very unusual position.  The Josiah Bartlett Center on Public Policy pays Mr. Cline to lobby on the education matters that are within his actual responsibility as chair of the State Board.  We have never seen this before.  Mr. Cline publishes reports and testifies to committees that school districts (the districts the State Board oversees) would not be harmed by the loss of revenues they would see under SB 193.

Now Mr. Cline has posted on a school choice website an article castigating the House Finance Committee for considering proposed changes to the version of  SB 193 he favors.

He characterizes as “simple and efficient” a bill widely recognized as one of the most poorly drafted in memory.  He expresses anger that the bill “dramatically reduces eligibility” for ESA grants.

He complains that “the amendment adds a per-district cap (rather than a statewide cap) on the number of children who can leave a dissatisfactory educational situation via a scholarship.”  What the chair of the State Board of Education actually seems to be saying here is that New Hampshire schools are so bad that large numbers of students should leave. He pounds that point home in his final paragraph:

Politically, some restriction on eligibility is a given. But this amendment sets that restriction unnecessarily low. That raises the obvious question, should the amendment replace the previous version of the bill: Who will be accountable for the continued struggles of these additional students who want desperately to find an educational environment that works better for them, but who were denied that opportunity?

In other words, but for political necessity, Mr. Cline would be in favor of no income or other limitations on the students who are “desperate” to leave public schools with taxpayer funded subsidies for private school educations.

“Desperate” to leave.  It’s hard to comprehend the chairman of the State Board of Education saying such a thing.  The caps proposed in the amendment already allow ESA grants to as many as 8,700 students over the first 11 years.  How many students does Mr. Cline think are desperate to leave New Hampshire’s schools?

Is there any state leadership left to speak up for public school students?


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