Dr. Carl Ladd: Sununu budget a good start for NH schools
AFTER LISTENING to Gov. Chris Sununu’s priorities in the area of education, it is clear to see he cares about our schools and making sure they continue their path toward improved quality outcomes for our young people. Although we have questions, there is some common ground from which to work together.
The governor’s emphasis on greater personalization is exactly the direction the New Hampshire School Administrators Association supports. School districts all over the state are implementing new technology and methodologies, enabling teachers to shift to a more individualized approach to education.
In Pelham, improved facilities and investments in technology have created a foundation for a new, socio-economic learning model, where teachers focus on not just what students learn, but how they learn.
In Pittsfield, a competency-based system has been implemented for students to demonstrate mastery in self-designed ways. These are but two examples of school districts meeting their students’ needs with innovation and creativity.
We agree with the governor that there are plenty of avenues to classroom success, and our school leaders are anxious to see the details behind the governor’s ideas.
For example, we applaud his call for funding full-day kindergarten. It is a real need and clear benefit. We are interested in seeing the details of this plan. Hopefully, all school districts will have access to those funds and it will not just be targeted to some.
It is important to keep in mind many towns have instituted this approach regardless of their economic situation, and we believe the state should aid all, rather than picking some over others.
Gov. Sununu pledged to fully fund adequacy and that is indeed a positive development. School administrators will be interested to see how that plan takes shape. This is a critical conversation.
The House Education committee recently set aside a plan to allow all school districts to count on stabilization funds for at least two years so no towns would lose state aid while the state works to fully fund adequacy statewide.
The governor did not mention other educational funding concerns, including fully funding aid for vocational education, catastrophic special education reimbursements, or building projects.
Hopefully, we can all wind up on the same page and have a smooth transfer to a reliable funding mechanism that truly meets the state’s constitutional and statutory obligations.
The governor spoke of expanding school choice, and we are certainly interested to see how that plan takes shape. Public school leaders support the public choice models that already exist, including home schooling, public charter schools, and tuition agreements that are approved by local communities.
However, we do not support simply creating school vouchers or similar programs that are not voter approved and would drain public school aid and create funding shortfalls, increasing the burden on the local taxpayer.
The concept of choice raises several questions. Is there a level playing field between public and private schools? How will the public know what kind of education their public funds are supporting? How will private schools be accountable for the use of public funds?
A private school does not have the same regulations for special education, various mandated supports, and other requirements that a government-regulated public school does, and this unfairly tilts the balance. There is also a lack of transparency when public funds are used to support private education.
We will want to know if the rules are the same for public and private schools and, if not, what specifically is different and why?
Lastly, parents and community leaders should also examine what it means to have local control. Traditionally, local control has meant communities making decisions about what is in their collective best interest through their elected leaders, town meetings, and public meetings of school boards and town leaders.
Increasingly in education, local control seems to mean leaving total control to individuals, with the expectation they can expend public funds with no accountability or transparency.
We are the Live Free or Die state, embracing choice and competition, but we are also a tight-knit coalition of communities interested in boosting quality for all and giving everyone a fair chance. Our school system should reflect that balance.
We look forward to working with Gov. Sununu and our state policy leaders in crafting a 21st century education system that meets all our students’ needs, regardless of their zip code or parental income, and produces well-trained, work-ready graduates to sustain and grow our economy.
The work starts now.
Dr. Carl Ladd is executive director and treasurer of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association.