Rep. Smith's vision for New Hampshire public education, Bill Duncan, Portsmouth Herald,2/9/12

posted Feb 9, 2012, 2:02 AM by Bill Duncan
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Rep. Smith's vision for New Hampshire public education
February 09, 2012 2:00 AM

Feb. 7 — To the Editor:

I offer the following translation of Rep. Will Smith's column (Seacoast Sunday, Feb. 5) about the Republican agenda for New Hampshire education: "Well, yes, we can't really say it but we Republicans are fundamentally against public education. And there's a good reason. Our New Hampshire public schools are lousy. It's time to shift support from our failing public schools to private, religious and home schools."

Really. Read it again. He says that, after massive investment and no improvement (he's wrong), our schools don't compare well to schools in Shanghai and around the world. Then, as Republican solutions, he offers two bills damaging to our high performing New Hampshire public schools.

One is the notorious HB 542 that has made New Hampshire the object of national derision (best headline: "Live Free, Die Dumb"). Any parent can now intervene in any school any time for any reason. The sponsor calls it "home schooling lite."

But the other bill is a blockbuster. It's the proposed school voucher program (HB 1607 and SB 372). New Hampshire schools already currently lose more than 3,000 students per year just to demographic changes. The proposed voucher program, all by itself, would almost double that. Over its first 10 years, if the program grew at 25 percent per year as the legislation allows, it could move 30,000 students from public to private schools and many more into home schools. It would cost the state and the school systems hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Public schools. Make them private," said Milton Friedman, the inventor of school vouchers, in his famous article. This is the impact the Republican legislative agenda would have on New Hampshire public schools.

And they have proposed over 20 bills to help do it. One group of bills would disband the New Hampshire Department of Education or, failing that, cut funding and move rule-making to the Legislature. Others would eliminate compulsory attendance or allow any child to opt out of a course if the parent conscientiously objects. This Legislature has already reduced state aid to school districts once and will try to reduce it more this year.

Since Rep. Smith's talking points are pervasive, I've put an annotated version of his letter at the Defending New Hampshire Public Education Web site (www.dnhpe.org, search "annotated smith"). While you're there, review the full Republican legislative agenda (search "legislative agenda," open the top article) and reach your own conclusion. And tell your legislator about it!

Our public schools have been the engine of our democracy and economy for 150 years. We do need to debate how our schools should prepare our children for the next years. But Rep. Smith and the New Hampshire Legislature have opted out of that discussion.

Bill Duncan

New Castle