A STUDENT WHO WAS repeatedly subjected to brutal physical and emotional abuse by a classmate. A childhood cancer survivor who was so mistreated by her school’s administration that she is still struggling to recover as an adult. A student athlete whose protests about police misconduct led to vicious threats from students against his family and his life.
These sad stories fell on deaf ears as legislators voted recently to advance a bill to eliminate New Hampshire’s Education Tax Credit Scholarship, which allowed these students to escape their schools. This modest program empowers hundreds of students in the Granite State to choose the school that works best for them . But if certain legislators have their way, the repeal bill will pass the full House sometime this week.
It is important to understand whom a repeal will affect. During a marathon hearing where nearly every single speaker urged the Ways and Means Committee to keep the program, members heard numerous searing testimonies about why the recipients sought out the scholarships.
Wendy Santiago showed wrenching photos of a child who repeatedly bore the bloody wounds from a bully who attacked him in school. In written remarks, Shalimar Encarnacion shared how her youngest son begged her to not send him back to public school after his counselors misdiagnosed his learning disability and “exiled” him to an internal suspension classroom rather than treating him with the care and compassion he deserved. In a harrowing account, Stephanie Alicea talked about her son’s decision to leave his public school after the harassment he faced for protesting police misconduct became unbearable.
Without a scholarship, these students would have been forced by financial necessity to stay in schools where their traumas occurred, their bullies roamed free, and their chances of growing into happy and productive members of society would have diminished each day. For these students, and hundreds like them, the scholarship program means hope.
Although the public school system has served many New Hampshire students well, it is not for everyone, nor should we expect it to be. As a matter of policy, public schools should be one way of educating children, but it should not be the only way.
For many students, the local public school simply does not work for them, and in some cases, it may be actively harmful. And it is the parent and the child who will most directly bear the consequences long after the student has left the classroom. Moreover, it is parents — not teachers or other school officials — who know which environment will best meet their child’s needs.
Programs like the Education Tax Credit Scholarship provide these students with a lifeline that they would otherwise not be able to afford. These scholarships give parents the power to vote with their feet and ensure their child has access to a good and safe educational environment without delay.
One mark of a decent and caring society is how well it cares for the most vulnerable among us. What will it say about New Hampshire legislators if, after bearing witness to these children, they decide to abandon them?