Gov. Maggie Hassan claims to support charter schools, which are public schools freed from some regulations so they can be more innovative. “Innovate” was the theme of Hassan’s campaign for governor and is her No. 1 buzzword. So why did she nominate the state’s top anti-innovation in education activist to the state Board of Education?
Hassan has nominated Bill Duncan, New Hampshire’s leading opponent of providing parents and children with opportunities to escape bad public schools. Duncan is a smart guy. He has become so prominent because he articulates the public school monopoly’s anti-child position more effectively than anyone else in New Hampshire.
As Charlie Arlinghaus writes in his column, Duncan is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging New Hampshire’s educational scholarships for low-income children (which should automatically disqualify him from the Board of Education). He opposes such scholarships not just on religious grounds, but on principle. He claims (falsely) that they are an attempt to “privatize” public education. But his animosity to providing children with genuine educational options goes deeper than that.
Duncan disagrees with Hassan on the utility of charter schools. Hassan has called them “laboratories” that utlimately improve public education. She understands, or at least pretended to, that innovation in education (as everywhere else) comes from experimentation. Charter schools are free to experiment, and that ultimately improves our whole education system. But in experimenting, they necessarily compete with other public schools by offering alternatives those schools cannot or will not offer.
Duncan’s view, expressed in his online blog posts, is that charter schools approved by local school districts to operate in full cooperation with the district are OK, but any charter school that provides competition to the local district is bad. That would include all charters approved by the state Board of Education.
As has happened in New Hampshire, local school boards sometimes refuse to approve charters because they fear the competition. That is why the Legislature granted the state Board of Education the power to authorize charter schools. Duncan would be a consistent vote against these state-approved charters.
Hassan cannot square Duncan’s charter school position with her own previously stated support. She wants charter schools to be innovative, but he wants them to be wholly cooperative with local school districts. If he gets on the board, he will undermine her own innovation agenda. She should withdraw the nomination as inconsistent with her often-stated position on charter schools — and as inappropriate in light of Duncan’s lawsuit against the state. Barring that, the Executive Council should reject it. Low-income children need advocates on the state Board of Education, not activists who will sacrifice them to the bureaucracy.