Anti-public schools movement has found its Braveheart, Bill Duncan, Concord Monitor, 2/2/12

posted Feb 2, 2012, 1:15 AM by Bill Duncan
Published on Concord Monitor (http://www.concordmonitor.com)

MY TURN

Anti-public schools movement has found its Braveheart

Legislator's agenda is long, destructive
February 2, 2012

It's great being a new legislator. You get to just think up an idea and make it a bill. Republican Rep. J.R. Hoell of Dunbarton, for instance, likes simple, one-paragraph bills. His HB 542, allowing parents to object to any course material for any reason, became law on Jan. 5, over the governor's veto. The law requires the schools to provide alternative lessons for such students. If parents put the law to use, it will tie up teachers and administrators and reduce the quality of our schools in New Hampshire.

Last Wednesday, the House Education Committee held a public hearing on Hoell's follow-up, HB 1575, which allows any student to opt out of any two courses and substitute parent-directed teaching.

He described his vision for both bills, really, on NHPR's The Exchange on Jan. 17:

"Why does it have to be that the additional material is taught by the school system? Maybe they can't come up with an agreement about the material but the parent says, 'Then I'll go to a private school or I'll go to a private tutor.' Will that work? And that may meet all the requirements."

So there it is: mini-private schools within the public schools. Maybe several parents of like mind get together and make a whole new course of study - and use the public school asset to house a custom private education system for each student.

But that's just the beginning of Hoell's plans for New Hampshire public education. Many of his proposals seek to eliminate or chip away at compulsory attendance in New Hampshire. HB 1162, for instance, would establish a committee to study the effect of compulsory attendance on families. This one drew a lot of questions, even from his Republican colleagues.

The House Education Committee also heard testimony last week on Hoell's HB 1571, which removes all academic accountability for home-schooled children. This is the back door to eliminating compulsory attendance, since there is no real difference between a no-accountability home school and truancy.

Sometimes he takes a more direct approach. HB 1424 allows parents to keep their children out of any school or curriculum to which they are "conscientiously opposed." This is another one-sentence bill, but a sentence that would essentially end compulsory attendance. The House Education Committee will hold a public hearing on this bill Feb. 7.

Hoell is also part of the attack on funding for public education in New Hampshire. He is a co-sponsor of HB 1413, which withdraws New Hampshire from the No Child Left Behind Act, at a cost of over $60 million in federal funding every year. The House Education Committee voted along party lines to send this bill forward with the recommendation that it should pass.

And he's out there advocating for the education tax credit (school voucher) program. He said in the Dec. 27 Keene Sentinel that "a well-implemented school choice program saves the state money, without downshifting the cost to the local school districts."

Actually, this education tax credit program (SB 372 and HB 1607) is a missile aimed at the heart of the New Hampshire school system. It could take as much as $200 million and 15 percent of our students out of New Hampshire public schools over the next 10 years.

As the bill says, the purpose is to: "allow maximum freedom to parents and independent schools to respond to and, without governmental control, provide for the educational needs of children."

There you have it. The purpose of school vouchers is not to improve public schools but to replace them with private, religious and home schools.

Hoell wades in as the Braveheart of the anti-public education movement, slashing away at education funding, compulsory attendance and the ability of the teachers to teach day-to-day. If he were alone, it would not matter so much. But he's part of a whole horde of House freshmen who elected Bill O'Brien as speaker of the House and now march under his banner.

(Bill Duncan of New Castle is a retired software entrepreneur.)