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March 10. 2013 5:21PM

Your Turn, NH: The political bullying of NH school children continues

I despise bullies.

One of the most profound impressions ever made on me was when, as a young man in the 1980s, I travelled along the border between China and Hong Kong. I vividly remember watching the people on the Chinese side laboring in the rice fields, literally in the shadow of the gun towers which sprouted from the barbed wire at frequent intervals. At the end of the day, my wife and I crossed back to the other side of the wire beyond which lay freedom and prosperity.

For our Chinese guide and the folks in the fields, however, that was a forbidden land. How unimaginably galling it must have been for them to peer through that barrier every day of their lives, and see Nirvana so close and yet so unattainable.

Years later I realized that the most telling feature of any wall is the posture of the guards. The Chinese guards on the border, like their counterparts who once manned the equally dismal Berlin Wall, were not defending their fellow citizens against outside attack. They were facing inwards, preventing escape. Arch bullies, one and all.

Not all walls are physical structures. The wall that has been erected around our public schools is purely economic, yet it traps those it surrounds equally as effectively as any barbed wire. Escape is theoretically feasible, but it comes with a price tag that is beyond the means of most families. To leave is to forgo, for some completely unfathomable reason, all access to a share of the substantial funding that society allocates to education. All of the money must stay behind.

Those whose educational preferences lean towards a different sort of school, outside the wall, are bereft of financial "cherishing" - children of a lesser God, apparently.

Recently, however, the tiniest of cracks appeared in the financial wall. The Scholarship Act of 2012 allowed small grants to go to lower-income families in order to make it easier for them, like their wealthier counterparts, to choose a non-public school for their children. Not surprisingly, perhaps since students in non-public schools pass Advanced Placement exams at four times the rate of their public school peers, the act was an attractive proposition for many. Five hundred children in the state have applied already.

Although the amount of money involved represents less than two tenths of one percent of what is consumed annually by the public schools, and it is not even dispensed from government coffers, the usual guards rushed to their ramparts. Teachers union lobbyists, superintendents and the school boards association, all facing most definitely inwards, howled with one voice, "No escape!"

And so was born the repeal act, House Bill 370, among the most shameful legislative efforts ever to stain the honor of the State House chambers. School choice is a concept that has egalitarianism and fairness writ large all over it. By every measure of common sense, it should be in the vanguard of the political platform of the Democratic Party, leveling life's most fundamental playing field by providing equal educational opportunity to the less fortunate.

But HB 370, backed almost universally by Democrats, opposes safeguarding the interests of the downtrodden. HB 370 seeks to obliterate choice, to shore up the wall and to cement the monopoly of the public unions. And what if you're one of those 500 lower-income kids yearning for nothing more than a chance? Too bad.

If you're looking for school bullying, try that one on for size.

Notwithstanding the fact that her own daughter attended the very private Phillips Exeter Academy (where the Hassan family lives and the governor's husband is in charge), our new governor, Maggie Hassan, is an active supporter of school choice repeal. Surely, in the entire spectrum of political hypocrisy, there is nothing that quite compares to wealthy officials who exercise school choice for their own families while denying it to others less financially fortunate. Count Gov. Hassan, too, among the ranks of the school bullies.

The public school lobby, on the whole, prides itself on efforts made to identify bullies. Plainly, a mirror would be a useful addition to its toolbox in that regard. The most effective method of stamping out school bullying, though, would be if the Senate resoundingly rejects HB 370 and sends an unequivocal message:

"Governor Hassan, tear down that wall!"

Richard Evans is a former school board member in Londonderry, and a winner of the "Better Government for New Hampshire" award presented by the Josiah Bartlett Center. His publications include his book: "Coloring Our Way to Calamity."


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