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Jennifer Horn: Education policy — it's personal

May 15. 2018 8:55PM

While nearly everything in politics has become personal these days, it seems that debate about education policy has always been especially so. I can understand, to a great degree, why this is the case. Every parent wants their child to have access to the best opportunities, the best education, the best schools. Parents fight to get their children into the best classes with the best teachers and in hopes of the best outcomes.

It is impossible to measure the love of a parent for their child, but we see it every day in the sacrifices parents are willing to make to ensure the best possible education for their children.

Politicians have also figured this out. Education policy has become a political tool, used to manipulate voters, divide communities and negotiate deals. We all remember when Rep. Dan Eaton, in 2013, sat in an open hearing of the House Finance Committee discussing charter schools, and said, “I’m looking at this as political — I want to have a trump card or two and this is a healthy trump card” for a future budget negotiation.

Unfortunately, families stuck in failing, underperforming schools have no trump card and this year, the Legislature has once again defeated an effort to expand choice and opportunity for New Hampshire’s students. SB 193 would have laid the path for the creation of Education Savings Accounts (ESA) to allow parents to send their children to the educational institution of their choice.

There is so much that is right about this approach to solving some of the challenges we face in many public school classrooms today, the most important of which is that it would place the decisions about what type of education is best for a child right where Live Free or Die voters believe it belongs: in the hands of New Hampshire parents. No one knows what is best for a child, what each unique child needs, better than their own parent.

While many legislators may have had sincere concerns about SB 193, the one most often cited — concerns about its constitutionality — was addressed early on. A legal review done by the Institute for Justice, in conjunction with the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, determined that ESAs as established by SB 193 passed constitutional muster both in New Hampshire and at the federal level.

Yet it still failed. Improving educational opportunities was a cornerstone issue for Gov. Chris Sununu during his campaign. In Sununu, the people have elected an enthusiastic father of three young children who sees unlimited potential in all New Hampshire children and is committed to finding paths forward for every student in our state.

It is not lost on me that by defeating this measure, many Democrats see it as a tool with which to attack the governor in the upcoming campaign, a “healthy political trump card” if you will. I, however, believe that this cynical, political ploy will fail. Sununu has been able to connect with the people of our state in a sincere and personal manner and voters know his heart on this issue.

ESAs would have improved the educational outlook for some of our most vulnerable students and Gov. Sununu did everything possible to make them happen. Our neighbors across the state saw that, and I believe they will be sending him back to the corner office to continue working on their behalf.

Those who worked so hard to block him on this may not be as lucky.

Nashua’s Jennifer Horn is the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party and is active in political and civic affairs.

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