New Hampshire’s education policy debate has come to the fore because over the past couple of years Governor Sununu has tried to put our public schools on a radical new path. By appointing a homeschooling advocate as education commissioner and giving him his head, the Governor has embraced a commitment to individualized, privatized, publicly funded education.
And Commissioner Edelblut has written a series of editorials promoting the administration’s critique of New Hampshire public education. A couple of months ago, the Commissioner made the case that our schools are stuck in a rut and that something called “education reform” is failing. Most recently, he observed:
What does it look like when schooling gets in the way of education? We do not have to look very far….
The Commissioner sets out his response in the form of “three important initiatives.” The first is a change to several data pages on the NHDOE website. The second is a proposed rule change under which the state board would give itself the authority to grant credits toward the diploma issued by any local school board in New Hampshire. The third is a Maggie Hassan proposal to enable high school students to gain community college credits at no cost – but now reframed as a “charter school,” so that the costs come from the existing state school funding formula (discussed here).
The CM editorial likens these proposals to “pedicure, a prostate exam and a haircut” for an accident victim in the emergency room. Instead, they say:
…public education is emaciated for want of state funding and at risk of being bled by continued attempts at privatization.
Edelblut, a home-schooling fan and fervent proponent of alternatives to public schools, points to “a growing disparity in student performance.” He rightly notes that the performance gap between students from economically advantaged and disadvantaged homes continues to increase despite the high overall national ranking of the state’s public schools….
What Edelblut doesn’t mention is that in New Hampshire many children from disadvantaged homes live in disadvantaged school districts, and the gap between schools in property-rich and property-poor towns has been getting worse, not better, with some schools spending twice as much per pupil as others. Schools in places like Pittsfield, Franklin, Claremont and Allenstown cannot attract or keep experienced teachers, who can earn far better pay in well-off school districts…..
In fact, most struggle to provide the basics.
The gap is also growing in the tax rate property owners in rich and poor communities pay to support public education. Disparities in educational opportunity and tax fairness were at the heart of the Claremont school funding lawsuits. The state Supreme Court found financing public education to be a state, not a local, responsibility.
New Hampshire needs a governor and an education commissioner who accept that reality, not gloss over it by creating programs that help the few at the expense of the many.