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Kathy Sullivan: You cannot trust this Legislature with your kids’ education

June 04. 2012 8:37PM

Some folks are finding a lot to love in the 'compromise' education funding constitutional amendment, CACR 12. Me, not so much.

The amendment states that the Legislature shall have the responsibility to maintain a system of public elementary and secondary education and to mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity. That language in and of itself would be fine, as it would give the Legislature the ability to target aid to towns that need more help, while maintaining the state's responsibility to provide an adequate education to all of New Hampshire's children.

However, the amendment goes further, giving the Legislature the full power and authority to make 'reasonable standards' for elementary and secondary public education and standards of accountability, and to determine the amount of and the methods of raising and distributing state funding. This latter language both threatens local control over educational content and the provision of state funds to support public education.

Proponents of the amendment state that local communities do not have to worry, that the Legislature will continue to support public education. The legislative sessions of 2011 and 2012 have proven that we can't trust Bill O'Brien's House to tell us whether it is raining or not. Speaker O'Brien and the Legislature have proven time and again that they are more interested in promoting a warped ideological agenda than they are in common sense.

Do parents really want to put Bill O'Brien's Legislature in control of their children's future? Not if they love them! We can hope the current Legislature will be washed away on the tides of the 2012 election, but if they are not, we will be dealing with the same people who would eliminate kindergarten, lower the drop-out age and tell communities that they cannot participate in programs like the International Baccalaureate Program. Putting Bill O'Brien in charge of educational funding and standards is an invitation for New Hampshire's public schools to bear more than a passing resemblance to those in Alabama or Mississippi.

Supporters of the amendment insist that the Legislature will not be able to provide zero funding, forcing local towns to pay the full cost of education. They say that clearly would be unconstitutional. Are we reading the same amendment? How could the courts rule that the Legislature is violating the constitution by providing no funds for public education if the constitution says the amount of funding is up to the Legislature? But if they are correct, and the courts could ignore the plain language vesting full authority in the Legislature, then the courts would be free to judge the adequacy of funding every budget cycle, leading to the possibility of legal challenges year after year.

And then there are the standards. Just imagine Jeanine Notter, Republican of Merrimack, one of the worst legislators ever to sit in Representatives Hall, writing standards for health curriculum. She is the representative who believes that the polio vaccine had nothing to do with the eradication of polio in Europe and that birth control pills cause prostate cancer. She also wanted to threaten doctors with felonies if they refused to provide false medical information to women regarding a non-existent link between abortion and breast cancer.

Or perhaps we can put Susan DeLemus in charge of civics. She is the legislator who caused a scene at the Ballot Law Commission when it ruled that President Obama could appear on the presidential primary ballot. Imagine the history standards that could be adopted with the encouragement of Jordan Ulery of Hudson. He is the representative who incorrectly believed that Jews established ghettos, which led to the Holocaust.

You really want these people in charge of educational standards?

What is to prevent the Legislature from deciding that reasonable standards of education are having all children learn to read and write at a fifth-grade level, with no provisions for languages, technology, music, or art available to children at any level?

Amendment supporters will say that I am being ridiculous, the Legislature would never adopt such lowball standards. I wish I could believe that. Nothing this Legislature has done gives me any comfort that the majority either believes in or supports public education. If anything, they have proven the opposite.

I do not believe that the goal of Speaker O'Brien is to permit targeted aid. I believe that his goal, and the goal of a number of other Republicans promoting the amendment, is to permit the Legislature to strip as much state funding as they can from the public schools, while taking over the content of what is taught in the schools. That is what the language in this amendment permits, and this is what Bill O'Brien and his majority will do if this amendment passes.

Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1999-2007.

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