Friends of New Hampshire Public Education,
Well! We have a lot to digest from the election. In this brief Update, I won’t try to accomplish too much – just get us oriented for the coming session.
The top line is that we elected friends of public education. The budget challenges have not gone away but the debate this year will about solving problems and strengthening our schools in New Hampshire – and how to pay for that – rather than about dismantling public education. The assault on public education was only one component of the larger assault on government in all its forms, but it’s fair to say that voters have rejected that.
It’s certainly fair to call Governor-elect Hassan an all-out advocate for public education. She sees our public education system, including higher education, as the key to our development as a state. And most of our legislators – new and returning, Republican and Democrat – and are strong supporters as well. Opposition to public education was one the issues that brought candidates down. Some of the winners even ran on their opposition to the voucher plan.
In response, we will now call ourselves “Advancing New Hampshire Public Education,” rather than “Defending…” Updates will be called “ANHPE Updates.” And we have a new web site (here) because so much of the “Defending…” site will not be relevant to this year’s legislative debate. The “Defending…” site will remain up, though, and we’ll refer to it as needed.
The new site is more in a blog format, with more opportunity for interaction. I’ve listed the pre-filed education bills (here) though many of the old standards like proposals to disband the Department of Education will no longer be relevant. We’ll weed them out as we go along.
I would not suggest that we have a real agenda for this session at this early stage, but here are some of the points I would make:
The voucher plan
The constitutionality of the voucher bill has not yet been challenged in court but may still be soon. One bill concerning the voucher plan has been filed by Rep. Peter Sullivan of Manchester (Legislative Services Requiest 2013-H-0190-L). Since Rep. Sullivan opposed the voucher bill last year, this may be the beginnings of an effort to repeal the voucher plan. Most defenders of the plan have retired from elected office (Sen. Forsythe) or been defeated (Rep. Hill), so there may not be much of a constituency for this orphan bill in the new Legislature. In case the voucher plan does survive, I have commented on the proposed regulations, suggesting greater reporting transparency on what happens to the state’s money.
University system funding
Restoring the drastic cuts to UNH and our community college system will be a high priority for the Governor and many legislators. Finding the money for this will not be easy but restoring cuts to the cigarette tax and the motor vehicle registration surcharge would be a good starting point.
Last year’s efforts to eliminate the state obligation to fund public education, to eliminate the fundamental right of our children to an adequate education and to minimize the authority of our courts in education will probably not gain real traction this year. But the perennial discussion of a constitutional amendment to allow targeting state aid to the neediest communities is bound to come back this year. It’s a complex subject that even strong supporters of public education disagree about. In the opinion of many experienced advocates, however, that we do not need a constitutional amendment to target sufficiently. We will try to promote a constructive solution to this issue this year.
School building aid
The last Legislature essentially opted out of any significant state support for building schools, a severe blow to public education in New Hampshire, especially to any community with a small tax base. Under the current plan, no real money would be available for years. This will surely get further discussion this year.
It will take time to address these and other pressing issues like vocational education funding, support for our community colleges and support for early childhood education. But New Hampshire’s economy and state revenues will probably improve over the next four years, along with the national economy as a whole. There will be many demands on these expanding revenues but we will advocate for investing a fair proportion in education, for the benefit of the kids and the development of the State.