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Big differences on education funding and school choice surface in Sullivan County House races

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The Valley News featured education funding in its thorough review of the the Sullivan 1 and Sullivan 9 House races.

The incumbent members of the House, Democrats Linda Tanner (Georges Mills), Lee Oxenham (Plainfield) and Brian Sullivan (Grantham) are strong supporters of public education who opposed SB 193, the statewide private school voucher bill defeated in the last Legislature, and seek ways to improve the education funding formula.

Two of their opponents, Plainfield Republican candidates Virginia Drye and her mother Margaret, take the position that only those families who use the public school system should pay for it.  Candidate Drye and Grantham Republican Tanya McIntire both think the “Croydon bill” should be expanded.

Here are excerpts from the Valley News report:

Democratic incumbents and their Republican challengers in two New Hampshire House districts in northern Sullivan County differ staunchly in their views of how the state ought to address school choice…..

The 19-year-old Virginia Drye,  R-Plainfield, was one of nine siblings who were home-schooled and said that families like hers are being double-billed, paying both property taxes to support public schools and their own education costs.

She said her family saved the town the cost of tuition to Lebanon High School. Plainfield has an agreement with Lebanon to send high school students there. The family continued to pay property taxes, which Virginia Drye said the town was able to use for other services.

“That’s funding that they didn’t have to spend on us,” Virginia Drye said. “But we still got educated.”

Drye and fellow school choice proponent Tanya McIntire, a Grantham Republican, are aiming to unseat two incumbents for Sullivan 1 seats, state Reps. Lee Oxenham, D-Plainfield, and Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham. The district includes Grantham, Plainfield, Cornish and Springfield.

Drye’s mother, Margaret, a school choice advocate who home-schooled her children, is challenging state Rep. Linda Tanner, D-Georges Mills, for a single seat representing the Sullivan 9 “floterial” district, representing Grantham, Plainfield, Cornish, Springfield, Newport, Croydon, Sunapee and Unity.

If families like hers that educate their children outside of the public school system were to get a property tax break, Virginia Drye said there would be no need to use vouchers to pay for these alternatives.

In contrast, the 68-year-old Oxenham said the state ought to do more to support public schools. For example, should the state legalize marijuana, Oxenham said it then could tax the drug and use the revenue to support public schools.

“This is how a society meets its goals,” Oxenham said. “(We) decide what we need and find ways to finance it.”

Oxenham, a former researcher at the National Academy of Sciences, said she does not like the idea of directing public money to private, religious and home schools.

Instead, she said, “If you don’t choose to use the public school system, I think you should pay for it. Taking money away from public schools to pay for other students is not a recipe for success.”

The 55-year-old McIntire, who works as a substitute teacher and in food service,….said the “Croydon Bill,” which Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed in June 2017, ought to apply to school districts such as Grantham’s, which has an agreement with Lebanon to send students there for seventh through 12th grades. The law allows towns such as Croydon that lack a public school for certain grades to send their students to nonsectarian private schools and pay the tuition with tax dollars.

In terms of addressing problems in the state’s education funding formula, McIntire said, “I don’t know. That’s something I would learn.”

The 60-year-old Sullivan, who gained his seat in a special election last November against Margaret Drye with a vote of 1,297-671, said he opposes efforts such as Senate Bill 193, a voucher-like bill that would let public funds to go into education savings accounts, which could then be used to pay for private and religious schools as well as home schooling. Sullivan said he sees it as a way of taking money away from public schools. The Legislature tabled SB 193 last session.

Sullivan, a former teacher and negotiator for the New Hampshire NEA who now serves on the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee, said he is not opposed to the Croydon Bill. Sullivan said that bill applies to a specific situation in which the community does not have a designated school to send students.

He said the state needs to re-evaluate its education funding formula because as it stands communities with lower grand list values such as Newport and Claremont struggle under high property tax rates in part to support their schools.

Such communities “need to have help to be able to have a level playing field with the rest of the state,” Sullivan said.

Margaret Drye, 60, said she would like the state to support school choice through education savings accounts, as described by SB 193, the bill the Legislature tabled last session. That bill would have increased access to alternative schooling options, particularly for low-income families, according to Drye.

Drye said she would like families that are educating their children outside the public school system to receive a property tax break. As things stand now, such families are subject to the “double jeopardy” of paying their own children’s education expenses as well as contributing to the public schools, she said.

Drye said supports the Croydon Bill and would like to see it applied more broadly.

In terms of the state’s education funding formula, Drye said she is sympathetic to communities with low grand list values. But Drye said she would like to address such inequities “without going to a broad-based tax.”

The 72-year-old Tanner, who serves on the House Education Committee and is a retired Kearsarge Regional High School teacher, said the state’s education funding formula needs to be revisited because the state has downshifted costs, such as teachers’ retirement benefits and building aid, to local school districts in recent years.

It’s “all been on the backs of the local property taxpayer,” Tanner said.

Though she did not point to a specific revenue source to use to help towns with low grand list values, Tanner expressed frustration about the rollback of certain business taxes.

“When we start draining funds from the state budgets, priorities shift all over the place,” she said.

Tanner supported the Croydon Bill and said she likes that it gives local school boards some say in where students go, rather than giving complete leeway to parents.

She said she opposes the use of public money on things like vouchers to send children to private schools, especially when those schools are not held to the same standards as public institutions. For example, Tanner said that private schools don’t have to follow all discrimination laws, conduct the same background checks, or have the same facilities and programs for people with disabilities.

“Public schools are the foundation of our state and our nation,” Tanner said.


The League of Women Voters of New Hampshire will help moderate a candidates forum, sponsored jointly by Sullivan County Democrats and the Sullivan County GOP, for the Sullivan 1 and 9 races at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday at Plainfield Town Hall on Route 12A.

Read the whole report here.


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