Underestimating the challenge, Opinion by DJ Bettencourt in Foster's, 4/24/12

posted Apr 25, 2012, 2:03 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Apr 25, 2012, 2:05 PM ]

DNHPE Comment: DJ has changed his tone in response to Foster's "macho" charge but the message is the same as in his letter to the Governor - and more nuanced.  (Highlight added.)

Every time DJ writes about the amendment, he adds to his objectives.  
  • First, the amendment needs to get the courts out.  DNHPE thinks this amendment does that but DJ and the Governor think it preserves a meaningful role for the Court. The trouble is, that's central to what the Governor wants and DJ and the Speaker don't.  That is a divide that will not be bridged.
  • Then DJ added that the amendment needed to "[protect] charter schools, protect home schooling, and promote school choice."  There's no telling how he thinks an amendment would accomplish those 3 goals, but neither the Governor nor the Senate will have any patience for that discussion.
  • Now he's added the "need to ensure that the amendment will provide the proper balance between the State and local school districts."  Local control is already stronger in New Hampshire that most anywhere.  He seems to still want some of the sentiment in CACR 8, the twice defeated amendment that put the school districts on their own and allowed religious schools to be publicly funded.
DJ suggests that the Governor accept all this and deliver 40 Democratic votes.  What's he smokin'?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I am grateful to Foster's for generously inviting me to share a few thoughts in reply to their editorial, Macho not the answer to funding dilemma (4/20/12), which addressed differences between Governor Lynch and myself over a constitutional amendment on education funding. My goal in this response is identical to the letter I sent to Governor Lynch last week, to candidly outline the challenges within the State House to getting an amendment on the ballot in November.

The House of Representatives passed an amendment last winter for the first time in the sixteen year history of the Claremont decisions after 80 unsuccessful previous attempts. We appreciate the need for an amendment and how to successfully achieve consensus within the House. What is less clear is whether the Governor's desired language, which got virtually no Democrat support in the House, is best for New Hampshire. Additionally, any proposed change to our constitution should be carefully considered.

Unfortunately, my friends at Foster's underestimate the magnitude of the challenges to achieving success. If it were as simple as the House gathering votes and acquiescing to the Governor's desired language our mission would be complete. However, to agree without considering all ramifications would be irresponsible and this is where the challenges arise.

We have to assure the inclusion of the term "responsibility" in the amendment, which is seemingly a "deal-breaker" for the Governor, does not result in a continuation of the type of judicial review we have seen under the Claremont decisions, in which the New Hampshire Supreme Court inserts itself into policy determinations that should be made by the branches of government accountable to voters, rather than performing traditional judicial review.

Further, we need to ensure that the amendment does not impinge upon our ability to develop charter schools, protect home schooling, and promote school choice. House leadership cannot in good conscience ask Representatives to agree to an amendment that could be detrimental to those aspects of our educational system simply to get along. House Republicans are responsibly asking questions and attempting to arrive at consensus language. Governor Lynch and Foster's may find these concerns "absurd" but we respectfully disagree.

We also need to ensure that the amendment will provide the proper balance between the State and local school districts. Excluding the far left, most agree that the Claremont decisions swung the pendulum too far toward inflexible State control. What we seek to accomplish is an amendment that will allow for the proper balance.

Fortunately, we can find compromise language that avoids pitfalls while protecting local control of education, allowing the legislature to target aid, and bringing stability to our schools districts. Bipartisan compromise can be found because we all agree on the broad principles but it is critical that Governor Lynch assist us to find language that we can all support.

Why can't House Republican leadership simply ram an amendment through the legislature as Foster's suggests? A bipartisan effort is essential because it is crucial to getting an amendment on the ballot in November and getting the required public support. A successful amendment needs 2/3 of the public, which necessarily includes Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. While I will never shirk my responsibility to lead my caucus, a strictly Republican effort is destined to fail.

Additionally, Democrat support is needed to replace some purist House Republicans, who on principle, simply won't vote for a compromise amendment no matter how much arm-twisting or machismo is employed. Democrats who support targeted aid must come forward if we are to achieve the 239 House votes needed to pass an amendment.

This is where Governor Lynch's help is vital. At the beginning of this process he assured us of his commitment to advocate for Democrat support. It seems at this time that he has lost interest in finishing this important job. We are at a critical juncture and need him to re-engage in a positive manner if this amendment is to succeed. As such, I took the Reaganesque approach of "trust but verify" and publicly asked Governor Lynch to follow through and reaffirm his commitment to placing an amendment on the ballot this November.

New Hampshire needs a public education system that is based on excellence and is the envy of the nation. [DNHPE Note: If that's the goal, why siphon off millions of dollars for private school vouchers?]  To achieve this, we must turn back the Claremont decisions. [DNHPE: We've already accomplished that.] Time is running short to do so and New Hampshire needs a constitutional amendment, and it needs it this year.

State Rep. D.J. Bettencourt
Majority House Leade