DURING THE Public Comment period of the June 9th meeting of the State Board of Education, several New Hampshire citizens offered comments to the board and Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut. One citizen, having witnessed continuing efforts to undermine public schools in her own district and the commissioner’s consistent support of measures destructive to public education, founded Support Our Schools NH (SOSNH), an organization dedicated to the protection of public education. On June 9th, she delivered 1,000 letters asking for Edelblut’s resignation.

Other speakers described new laws and measures designed to threaten the ability of teachers to provide an accurate account of our nation’s history.

Let me begin by taking note of the fact that on the very evening of the meeting, June 9th, the congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection would be holding its first public hearing. Given this board’s complicity in supporting the commissioner’s efforts to undermine New Hampshire public schools, I felt compelled to ask its members these questions: Do you understand the essential role of public education in our democracy? Do you know why public schools exist?

The fact is that Thomas Jefferson, a key architect of our democratic republic, was fearful that self-interested factions would undermine the common good for their own private purposes. Jefferson’s strategy to address this danger to democracy was public education paid for and overseen by taxpayers. Public schools not only teach young citizens our nation’s history and how our government was intended to work, they also provide firsthand experience of what living in a democracy requires.

The steady undermining of our public schools is really an ongoing attack on what Thomas Jefferson understood as an essential and fundamental foundation of our democracy.

Curious about the response these public comments might inspire, I stayed to listen to the balance of the meeting. Finally, at the very end of the meeting, Board Chair Drew Cline quietly but definitively dismissed all the comments presented during the public comment period. He noted that the board and the commissioner “do support public education” and that they are “constantly highlighting good things about public education.”

However, using public tax dollars to support the privatization of education with virtually no public oversight will, over time, destroy public education no matter how cleverly the board and the commissioner defend their actions.

Using phrases such as “bright futures” and “kids learn differently” to justify taking public dollars to fund private education is deceptive. The fact is that public schools know that every child is an individual. This is why every child with a learning challenge has an IEP, an individualized education plan; this is why it makes sense to encourage public charter schools with special programming designed to respond to students with particular interests and needs.

Slowly bleeding public schools of critical funding while public tax dollars follow former students to private educational situations with little oversight makes no sense. As for Mr. Cline, over time these measures taken by his board and this commissioner will destroy our public schools, which are attended by 90% of New Hampshire young people. Destroying our public schools, as Thomas Jefferson understood, means the destruction of a critical foundation of our democracy.

Janet Ward lives in Contoocook.

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