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Sen. Dan Innis: I believe in school choice for all New Hampshire children

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School funding will be the big issue in the next legislative session.  And here is Senator Dan Innis of New Castle running for re-election on his proposal to allocate New Hampshire’s scarce education dollars to private schools in the form of vouchers.  And he wants to expand last year’s $100 million voucher bill, defeated in a bi-partisan vote, by making all wealthy children eligible for private school subsidies, leaving local property taxpayers to cover for reduced state funding.

Tom Loughman, candidate for state rep from Hampton, published a great response in the Seacoast Media papers today and here is nationally known education expert Scott Marion from Rye unpacking Mr. Innis erroneous assertions point by point.  Bill Kingston of New Castle also responded in today’s papers.

Senator Innis making his case:

As a university professor, I can tell you firsthand that the American K-12 education system is not delivering on its promise of teaching our children the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. In fact, it is estimated that 40-60 percent of high school graduates who attend college require remedial education (Center for American Progress). What this means is that about half of our high school graduates arrive at their chosen university unprepared for college level learning. As a result, they pay tuition to learn what they should already know. The cost of remedial education at college and universities is $7 billion per year (The Hechinger Report, 2017), a cost that is paid by students, colleges, and taxpayers.

Most New Hampshire residents assume that the high school that they support through taxes is getting the job done. However, US high school student test scores have fallen behind a host of other nations, with the performance of our students ranked 14th in the world. According to US News, New Hampshire does well compared to other states, coming in at number nine. Regardless, many families want to pursue alternative school options for their children, and often find it cost prohibitive.

School choice is something that is important to many families. As an example, my spouse was told by his high school guidance counselor, as a sophomore, that he should find a private boarding school to help him tap into his creative abilities. Imagine that! He was too poor to make it work as a rich family would, but he managed to use his own savings from work, scholarship support, and other resources to attend the Putney School in Vermont for two years. It was a life changing experience that helped him to be wildly successful.

Unfortunately, many families find it impossible to fund the cost of private schools for their children. That is why I supported Senate Bill 193, which would have provided support for low income families in their quest for a great education for their children. The House did not pass the bill this session. This means that wealthy families continue to have school choice, but less fortunate families do not. The cost is prohibitive for most New Hampshire families.

Some educators argue that removing students from inadequate public schools will take funds away from these schools and channel the money to private schools. While this may be partially true, it all comes down to the quality of the education product. If a public school is not delivering what students need, or what a particular student may need, then students and parents should be able to choose another product.

Think about it–we have choice and competition at the grocery, when buying a car or a home, a pair of pants, or dinner out. We choose that product or service that best fits our needs. However, some politicians think that it is important that we force lower income families to keep their children in public schools–while high income children choose private schools–simply because they were born into a wealthy family. In fact, some wealthy politicians sent their kids to private schools but oppose Senate Bill 193! The hypocrisy is almost unbelievable. All three of my children attended public schools, and all three will have UNH degrees (Emily starts as a freshman next week).

I grew up poor, and I attended public school in a major midwestern city. Private school was never an option for me or my siblings. I graduated from a small-town public high school, and I learned what I needed to learn. From public schools I went to state universities. My success is due to public schools and hard work. I believe in school choice for all New Hampshire children, I support public and private education, and I will continue to fight to ensure that equal education opportunity is something that ALL New Hampshire families have before them.

What about the public schools? Will they see reduced enrollment? In some cases, yes. The simple answer is for the public schools to do their job. Competition makes us better, and I am confident that the talented administrators and dedicated teachers in our public schools are up to the task. I am a product of public schools and they were the foundation of my success. I believe in public education, but I also know that alternative schools are sometimes a better choice for some children.

Let’s level the playing field in K-12 education and provide a means for lower income children to have the same educational opportunities that are available to higher income children. It is the right thing to do.

New Castle Republican Daniel E. Innis represents District 24 in the New Hampshire State Senate.

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