Another View -- Christopher Sununu: Education choice is the foundation for equal opportunity
Providing an opportunity for our children to get a great education must be one of our highest priorities in New Hampshire. In the past we have shown this is best achieved by keeping education policy closely tied to the parents of our children.
That means keeping as much of that control in the hands of our local school boards. Unfortunately, in recent years we have often seen politics and poor leadership in our state government trying to erode this very effective approach.
To make matters worse, today it is not just state government infringing on local control of education. The federal government and its D.C. bureaucrats have twisted the concept of strong standards — of a Common Core — into a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to curriculum. In this process, the financial leverage of the federal government is being used to fuel the growth of an education industrial complex that is radically changing classroom instruction. It is producing a frenzy of growth in the business of undisciplined standardized testing.
Government bureaucracy begins by dangling a package of funds in return for gaining oversight of policy, and then they virtually always fall short of providing the promised funds. One area where this bait and switch by the federal government has been most blatant is in funding for special education. Over the last 40 years states have seen a litany of broken promises by the federal government and their continued failure to support their own mandates. Most of our towns are now forced to pay far more than they ever expected, creating a serious strain on local resources.
In New Hampshire, we see continued evidence of illogical behavior by the state. Our governor and her attorney general are seeking an injunction against the small town of Croydon, that has chosen to pay tuition for a tiny group of elementary students to attend a private school. The Croydon School District has seen fit to pay for five students to attend the Newport Montessori School, because it and the students’ parents have determined it is in the children’s best interest. That approach also happens to be less costly to Croydon taxpayers than the public school. However, the attorney general says that Croydon is violating the law, so now the town must raise money to fight the state in court.
The issue in Croydon is a clear example of government overreach. Too often, special interests and unelected bureaucrats act as if they know what is right for children over the judgment of parents. Instead of expanding options for families, the state has unfortunately been working to reduce them.
This inclination to reduce options is also seen in the state’s attitude toward charter schools. Although charter schools were established 20 years ago in order to provide another public school option for families, many lawmakers, education bureaucrats, and labor unions have fought against charter schools for two decades. They say that they support charter schools to get a good headline, then strangle the funding to unsustainable levels. That type of political hypocrisy must stop.
Today, New Hampshire’s public charter schools continue to be short-changed. They receive just 40 percent of the per-pupil funding of traditional public schools, and yet they are some of the top performing schools in the state. A great example, of course, is Nashua’s Academy for Science and Design charter school, which was named this year by Newsweek as one of the Top 50 schools in America, and the highest-ranking school in New Hampshire.
We must ensure that all parents have educational choice. New Hampshire families of low and moderate income should have a similar set of educational options for their children as do our more affluent citizens. Whether they opt for charter schools, traditional public schools, home schools or private schools, government should not create barriers to their options. By opening doors for these families we help close the “opportunity gap” and to prepare our kids to compete in the 21st-century economy. If we are unwilling to create more opportunity and competition in our classrooms, then we risk stifling the source of ingenuity and innovation for our future.
In New Hampshire we must have a system of education that is best for all of our students. By breaking down barriers to school choice, providing more funding for charter schools, paying our brightest teachers the best wages, and building a responsible budget so that we can reinstate school building aid, we will assure a brighter future for New Hampshire.
Executive Council Christopher Sununu is father to three children attending public schools, serves as the CEO of Waterville Valley Resort, and is a Republican candidate for Governor of New Hampshire.