Archives for category: New Hampshire

I was thinking of titling this post “Libertarian Crackpots Take Charge of School Funding in New Hampshire” but decided to bite my tongue.

Garry Rayno, a writer for InDepthNH.org, reports that the Koch-funded plan to defund public schools in New Hampshire is a “success.” Not because most parents want to put their children in private or religious schools, but because the overwhelming majority of students using the new education freedom accounts are already enrolled in nonpublic schools. Thus, public funds are now underwriting private education. At some point, the public schools will shrink to be just one among many choices even though the people of New Hampshire never voted to abandon their community public schools. This is a theft of public dollars for private use.

By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org 

The new education freedom account program is a success judging by the number of students participating in the first year.

More students are expected to participate in the second year and state education officials predict it will continue to grow into the future.

One of the most expansive school choice programs in the country, it was sold as a way for students and parents to find the best educational avenues to fit their student’s individual learning needs.

That would be wonderful and would fulfill the education department’s long-standing goal of individualized student pathways, but that is not what happened for a majority of students.

Instead the program has increased the state’s education spending while few students changed their learning environment.

The vast majority of students — around 85 percent — participating in the first year, did not attend public schools the year before. Instead they were in private or religious schools, or home schooled, or too young for school.

That does not change the learning environment for that 85 percent of students.

What did change under the program was the parents’ financial obligations, which were reduced thanks to the influx of state taxpayers’ money.

Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, a program advocate, told lawmakers the first year of freedom accounts would cost the state’s Education Trust Fund about $300,000 and the second year about $3.2 million. Instead the cost was close to $9 million this year.

Why the increase? Edelblut’s estimates were for students leaving traditional public schools to participate in alternative programs, not for those already in other programs applying for state help to cover the costs of private and religious schools, or home schooling.

Essentially most of the state money flowed through the parents to private and religious schools and for homeschooling costs all previously paid for by the parents or religious institutions.

When the program was first debated this term, the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Assistant’s office estimated the state’s exposure could be as high as $70 million if all the students in private or religious schools applied for grants.

The program provides grants to parents of students who earn no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level or about $80,000 a year for a family of four.

You only have to qualify once, so if the next year your family makes $125,000, you still qualify and if you double that the next year, you still qualify.

Grants range from about $4,500 to $8,000 per student with the average the first year a little under $5,000 per student.

The money can be spent in any number of ways, for tuition, books and instructional programs, supplies, computers, individual instruction on a musical instrument, etc.

The money to pay for the freedom accounts comes from the Education Trust Fund established more than 20 years ago when the state overhauled its funding system after the Claremont II Supreme Court decision saying the then current system of relying on local property taxes with widely varying rates to pay for public education was unconstitutional because it violated the proportional and reasonable clause of the state constitution.

For most of its early years, the trust fund ran a deficit and state general fund money had to be added to meet the state’s education aid obligations.

In recent years the fund has had a surplus including this biennium. The state budget passed last year estimates a $54.4 million surplus at the end of last fiscal year June 30 and a $21 million surplus at the end of the 2023 fiscal year.

The surplus at the end of last fiscal year is much larger than that as the overall state revenue surplus is more than $400 million, but most of that has already been spent through legislation this year such as the $100 million settlement fund for the children abused at the Youth Detention Center.

The law establishing the freedom accounts has a provision if the education fund does not have enough money to cover the cost of the grants, the needed money will be withdrawn from general fund revenue without any action needed from the legislature or the governor.

Such a provision is extremely rare as lawmakers like to be able to determine how general funds are spent.

The number of students participating in the program the first year would probably not be so large if not for the American for Prosperity, an “education organization” funded by the Koch network and other like thinking libertarians who have longed advocated that public education tax money also pay for private and religious schools, homeschooling and charter schools.

The New Hampshire affiliate had a campaign ready to go when the freedom account legislation passed as part of the budget package last year. The group helped parents enroll their students in the program, many who were in private or religious schools or home schooled.

Last week the same organization held an “education fair” for parents to meet representatives of some of the organizations and groups approved to other alternative education programs under the freedom account program.

The fair was promoted by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut who tweeted a photo from the fair, and the department had a booth there to promote its 603 Moment campaign on social media.

Others touting the fair included members of the House freedom caucus and others in the free state/libertarian wing of the GOP.

The fair is intended to help grow the program, meaning more state money will be drawn from the Education Trust Fund and ultimately the state’s general fund.

This is a well planned operation that only required the state to agree to a school choice program with few guardrails to begin taking the state down the road to greater educational “freedom” and less traditional public education.

The Koch network has recently developed a proposal to “reform” public education with one of its officials calling public education the “low hanging fruit.”

The reform would look a lot like what the freedom account program looks like and would shift resources as it does away from traditional public education to alternative pathways.

As the freedom account program grows, observers of the legislature know what will happen eventually.

As more and more education trust fund money is allocated, there will be pressure to reduce the amount of money going to traditional public education and, depending on which party is in control, to charter schools.

That is how public education becomes the low hanging fruit.

The education commissioner and others talk about the achievement gap between students from well off areas and minority students and those from low-income families.

Edelblut maintains that gap has not changed in 50 years despite numerous efforts on the federal and state level and says that is why education needs to change.

He downplays what the recent education funding commission made the centerpiece of its work, that the achievement gap is due to the resources available to students.

Students from property poor communities perform below students from property wealthy communities.

The economic disparity gap between students from property wealthy and property poor communities is larger now than it was when the Claremont lawsuit was filed 30 years ago.

Proponents of alternative education programs say it is not about spending more money, and the education funding commission said the same thing.

But the commission said the resources needed to be distributed differently, while the advocates for freedom accounts say it is about finding the right fit for a student.

Those advocates are saying the issue is not economic disparity.

Ultimately their goal is to make government smaller and they can accomplish that by disrupting traditional public education with lower cost, less regulated alternative programs.

Eventually traditional education will be small enough to be just one more alternative pathway for students among many.

That is why public education is the low-hanging fruit and freedom accounts are just the beginning.

In 2001, libertarian political scientist Jason Sorens proposed the creation of a “free state.” He appealed to other libertarians to cluster in one small state, where enough of them would be able to eliminate laws and authority and “live free.” That state was New Hampshire, and the libertarians have joined hands with Republicans to impose their agenda on others who don’t share it. Earlier this spring, Free Staters proposed that New Hampshire secede and became an independent nation, but that proposal failed overwhelmingly, in part because enough people realized it was nutty and/or they didn’t want to give up their Social Security.

Dan Barry wrote in The New York Times about an effort by Free Staters in Croydon, New Hampshire, to cut the town’s school budget in half.

As is typical in many towns and cities across the nation, not many people show up for local elections, or in this case, the town meeting. One of the members of the Croydon board of selectmen, Ian Underwood, proposed cutting the town budget for schools by more than half, from $1.7 million to $800,000.

In pamphlets he brought to the meeting, Mr. Underwood asserted that sports, music instruction and other typical school activities were not necessary to participate intelligently in a free government, and that using taxes to pay for them “crosses the boundary between public benefit and private charity.”

The pamphlet did not note that its author was a 1979 graduate of the public high school in Chesterton, Ind., where he starred on the tennis team, ran track, played intramural sports and joined extracurricular activities in math, creative writing, radio and student government. Also: National Honor Society member, National Merit finalist and valedictorian.

One person not completely gobsmacked by Mr. Underwood’s proposal was the school board chairwoman: his wife, Jody Underwood. The Underwoods, who do not have children, moved to Croydon from Pennsylvania in 2007 in part to join the Free State mission; they are now considered a Free State power couple.

Underwood’s radical proposal passed by 20-14. It was a victory for the Free Staters. As the Underwoods did media interviews, they gloated:

Mr. Underwood asked what for him appears to be a fundamental question — “Why is that guy paying for that guy’s kids to be educated?” — and denied that he and his wife were “in cahoots.”

Many people in Croydon were “livid.” They realized this radical act was the result of their indifference.

But they were also chastened. They hadn’t attended the town meeting. They hadn’t fulfilled their democratic obligation. They hadn’t kept informed about the Free State movement. To some observers, they had gotten what they deserved…

From this muddle of anger, confusion and regret, though, a movement was born. It came to be known as We Stand Up for Croydon Students.

Conservatives, liberals and those who shun labels — “an entirely nonpartisan group,” said Ms. Damon, one of the members — began meeting online and in living rooms to undo what they considered a devastating mistake. They researched right-to-know laws, sought advice from nonprofits and contacted the state attorney general’s office to see whether they had any legal options.

They did: Under New Hampshire law, citizens could petition for a special meeting where the budget cut could be overturned — if at least half the town’s voters were present and cast ballots.

Ms. Beaulieu, 44, a project manager for a kitchen and bath store, helped to gather enough signatures for the necessary petition. Once a date in May was set for the special meeting, she and other volunteers spread the word, knocking on doors, conducting phone banks and planting lawn signs…

The crisis in Croydon generated a curious democratic dynamic. Since the law required that at least half the town’s electorate participate in the special meeting’s vote for it to be binding, those trying to overturn the Underwood budget encouraged people to attend, while those hoping to retain it encouraged people to do just the opposite and stay home.

On the chilly Saturday morning of May 7, Croydon residents filed into a spacious building at the local YMCA camp for their special meeting. The We Stand Up contingent needed at least 283 voters.

The turnout: 379.

The vote in favor of overturning the Underwood budget: 377.

The vote against: 2.

The We Stand Up crowd cheered and hugged, leaving Mr. Underwood to vent online with posts titled “Your House Is My A.T.M.” and “Possibly Dumbest Thing I’ve Heard Someone Say, Ever,” and Dr. Underwood to frame the moment as both an impressive voter turnout and a victory for “mob rule.”

“It felt to me like a bunch of woke people came to Croydon,” she said.

What happened in Croydon is a lesson for us all.

Get out and vote.

Do not let the neo-fascists, neo-Confederates, racists, and conspiracy theorists take over.

Fight for democracy or lose it.

What is happening to the America that we swore allegiance to every day in public school? what happened to the America that was “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”? How did we get a rogue Supreme Court that recklessly demolishes women’s rights, the separation of church and state, gun control, public safety, and efforts by government to prevent climate disasters? Who kidnapped the conservative Republican Party that believed in stability and tradition? From whence came the people who scorn the commonweal and ridicule Constitutional norms?

Former state legislator Jeanne Dietsch has an answer. Connect the dots by looking at what has happened to New Hampshire. The coup failed in Washington, D.C. on January 6, she writes. But it is moving forward in New Hampshire, with many of the same characters and all of the same goals.

If you read one post today, read this.

She writes:

During the last few weeks, US House leaders documented the nearly successful January 6 coup piece by piece, before our eyes. That personal power grab failed. Meanwhile, the steps clinching takeover of our government by radical reactionaries have nearly triumphed. A plan decades in the making. A plan nearly invisible to the ordinary public.


I can barely believe myself how this story weaves from Kansas to Concord to DC to the fields of southern Michigan over the course of six decades. It starts in Witchita. Koch Industries is the largest privately held company in the US, with over $115 billion in revenues, mostly fossil-fuel related. For many years, two of the founders’ sons, Charles and David Koch, each owned 42% of the company.


The younger, David, studied in the engineering department of MIT for 5 years, simultaneous with young John H. Sununu. Both finished their Master’s degrees in 1963.

1980: THE KOCHS SET THEIR GOALS


Seventeen years later, David Koch ran for Vice President of the US on the Libertarian ticket. The campaign was largely funded by Koch interests. The Libertarian platform of 1980, shown below, may look disturbingly familiar to those following news today.

Open her post to read the Koch Libertarian platform of 1980.

Libertarians demanded the abolition of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public schools, aid to children, the Post Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and more.

The infrastructure for achieving that platform was founded two years later. It was called the Federalist Society. It was a plan by a “small but influential group of law professors, lawyers, and judges.” Its goal?

To train members of their professions to believe in “originalism.” Originalists “strictly construe” the Constitution as they believed the Framers designed it way back in 1787. This matched David Koch’s 1980 platform. It would leave corporations free to do whatever profited them most without regard for social costs or regulations. Older Federalist Society members used their influence to advance their followers to higher judgeships.

SUNUNU FAMILY ROLES


Meanwhile, John Sununu became governor of New Hampshire, then Chief of Staff for President George W. Bush. In that role, John thwarted a plan for the US to join the international conference to address climate change in 1989. Actions like this, that benefitted Koch and the rest of the fossil-fuel industry, would become a hallmark of the Sununu family.


In 1993, an executive of Charles and David’s Koch Industries Michigan subsidiary, Guardian Industries, became a founding trustee of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy [JBC] in NH. Its mission was to advance many of the policies listed on David Koch’s platform of 1980. John Sununu, and later his son James, would chair the JBC board through today. Another of Sununu’s sons, Michael, would become a vocal climate denier and industry consultant. Still another, Senator John E. Sununu, would oppose the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003. But the Sununus were not coup leaders, just complicit.

BUILDING INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE COUP


But let’s jump back to the Federalist Society. Its mission was succeeding. They were stacking the lower courts.?..Those justices hired young lawyers as clerks. From 1996-97, Thomas employed a Federalist Society clerk named John Eastman.


Twenty-three years later, Eastman would meet secretly with President Donald Trump. He would convince him that Vice President Pence could refuse to accept electoral college ballots on January 6. But back in 1999, Eastman became a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. “The mission of the Claremont Institute is to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life.”


Now we’re almost at the secret clubhouse of the coup. The Claremont Institute was run by a fellow regressive named Larry Arnn.(Photo below) In late 1999, Arnn was in the process of replacing the president of Hillsdale College because of a scandal that made national news. Hillsdale promotes conservative family values. Yet its leader was having an affair with his daughter-in-law. She committed suicide. Hillsdale was the central hub for Libertarian radicals so they needed a strong leader to pull them out of the mud.

Please read the rest of this fascinating post. There is one blatant error: she refers to “Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer” as Koch justices, but Breyer was a liberal justice appointed by Clinton. She must have meant the crackpot Alito.

Jennifer Berkshire is on a roll. It seems she writes a great article every other day–or is it every day? She has a new article in The Nation about the New Hampshire school board elections. It is titled “How Progressives Won the School Culture War,” but I doubt that the people who won the school board races call themselves “progressives.” I would say they are sane, rational, intelligent citizens who did not want rightwing extremists in charge of their public schools.

She begins:


It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. For months now, Republican Party leaders have trumpeted their intention to run hard on parent grievances en route to routing the Democrats in the midterms. According to this narrative—partially based on the 2021 elections in Virginia, then endlessly echoed by Democratic pundits—parents frustrated over school shutdowns, Covid restrictions and the focus on race and social justice in schools are the new swing voters, poised to flee the Democratic Party. 

But in New Hampshire, where bitter debates over school masks and “critical race theory” (CRT) have dominated local politics for more than a year, the season of parent rage ended in a stunning sweep of school board elections last week by progressive public school advocates. “It was a complete repudiation of the GOP’s attempt to drive a wedge between parents and schools,” says Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress. Of 30 candidates designated by the group as “pro–public education,” 29 won their races—many in traditionally “red” regions of New Hampshire. Across the state, culture warriors and advocates of school privatization lost to candidates who pledged to protect and support public education.

Instead of resonating with voters, the right’s efforts to weaponize cultural grievances appears to have alienated them. With the GOP poised to make the education culture wars a central focus of its midterm appeal, New Hampshire offers some clear lessons for Democrats.

Michael Boucher chalks up his decision to run for the school board in the southern New Hampshire town of Atkinson to a single word: extremism. Last year, he watched as the debate over local schools grew steadily more rancorous, first over CRT, then masks. Boucher became a regular presence at board meetings, where he noticed that many of the loudest voices weren’t actually from the district. “Suddenly there were all of these groups coming in—the Government Integrity Project, Moms for Liberty, Americans for Prosperity. I realized that if I didn’t step up, one of their people would,” says Boucher.

Boucher, who works as a data analyst for a government contractor, says that he set a goal of talking to as many people in Atkinson as possible about the rising climate of extremism. He found a receptive audience. While the community has long leaned Republican, many voters remain what Boucher calls “classic” GOP. “They want to see tight budgets—but they also want to see opportunities for all kids and a welcoming culture in the schools. There are actually a lot of people who feel that way,” says Boucher. 

He campaigned on the need to teach history honestly against a candidate who ran on opposition to CRT. Boucher won resoundingly, claiming nearly three-quarters of the vote.

And Boucher wasn’t alone. Thirty miles north, in Bow, first-time candidate Angela Brennan, the subject of a Republican mailer calling her “anti-parent” and a “Biden-like progressive,” was the top vote getter in a five-person contest for two seats on the school board.

“All of these attacks on public education really backfired at the local level,” says Molly Cowen, a member of the select board in Exeter, which has also seen acrimonious debates over mask and vaccine mandates and school district diversity policies. In the lead-up to the election, a conservative parents’ PAC spent an estimated $20,000 on mailers making the case that the district’s focus on racial equity had led to a precipitous decline in academic achievement.

Voters in the district, which covers five towns, responded by booting two conservative members off the board and electing a number of pro–public education candidates.

Please open the link and learn how extremism was defeated in New Hampshire.

Tuesday’s school board election in New Hampshire was a triumph for parents and citizens who love their public schools!

This must have shocked Republican Governor Chris Sununu, the Republican-controlled legislature, and State Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who home-schooled his own children and is pushing a sweeping voucher plan for the state.

AfterGlenn Youngkin was elected Governor of Virginia by pandering to parents angry about “critical race theory,” mask mandates, and eager to control what children learned and what books they read, the media bombarded us with stories predicting that Republicans would win next November by running against public schools.

New Hampshire families and citizens said on Election Day, “Not so fast! We love our public schools.”

I Love Public Education Sign Visibility

In first town elections since onslaught of attacks on public education and a honest, accurate education, voters send clear message that they support strong public schools and a honest, accurate education

CONCORD, NH – In race after race across New Hampshire on Town Meeting Day, concerned parents and community members in communities large and small successfully organized to elect pro-public education candidates and reject those seeking to dismantle public education and censor history.

“These results should raise serious doubts about any Republican 2022 election strategy that is built around pitting parents against local public schools and educators,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins, Executive Director of Granite State Progress. “In nearly every school board race, Granite State voters chose out-spoken champions for public education and an honest, accurate, inclusive education. This is a big win for public schools and for our future. These leaders are committed to keeping our public schools strong and making sure every student’s history and experience is valued.”

The results from the election are all the more astounding for record-shattering voter turnout, and for the blatant differences between the candidates on everything from public education, COVID public health measures, and attempts to whitewash American history and censor educators. A priority list of school board results can be found here.

Key examples from around the state:

  • Merrimack Valley School District, home to some of the state’s most vocal anti-vaccine, anti-mask, and classroom censorship activists, experienced a 56% increase in voter turnout from 2019, and supported public education candidates while also defeating a classroom censorship/anti-equity warrant resolution.
  • Bedford experienced a 36% increase in voter turnout and elected pro-public education candidate and teacher Andrea Campbell with 2832 votes, compared to 1293 votes for Sean Monroe, a candidate supported by right-wing organization Defend Our Kids, and 856 for incumbent John Schneller; both of whom supported efforts to censor teachers and ban conversations about race and racism in public schools.
  • Londonderry elected pro-public education candidates Amanda Butcher and Kevin Gray, defeating vocal anti-masker Rachel Killian (seen here harassing school board members during a public meeting). Voters also rejected a warrant resolution to make masks completely optional and the sole decision of parents instead of school leaders and public health experts; a significant decision given Gov. Sununu’s recent decision to ban schools from enacting COVID public health measures like masks.
  • Governor Wentworth School District elected Republican State Rep. Brodie Deschaies over far-right activist Jessica Williams, who believes public schools are indoctrinating students and was arrested at a GWSD school board meeting on September 13, 2021.
  • Weare elected pro-public education candidates William “Bill” Politt and Alyssa Small, and passed full-day kindergarten; and Hollis elected pro-public education candidates Carryl Roy, Krista Whalan, and Holly Babcock.
  • Exeter and SAU 16 elected a full slate of pro-public education and honest education candidates, despite a nearly $20,000 effort by the opposition and months of voter mailings from those who oppose diversity, equity, and inclusion justice efforts in the school districts.

“We are in awe of how our communities have come together to protect and support public education,” said Sarah Robinson, Education Justice Campaign Director for Granite State Progress. “Parents, students, educators, and community leaders have been working for months to organize, recruit strong candidates, and support pro-public education campaigns. Watching the results come in and knowing that so many public education champions are going to be serving in these roles gives us all hope. Our schools have been under constant attack from privatization schemes, neo-Nazi’s, and of course Governor Sununu’s statewide ban on a honest education. We all know that serving on a school board right now is challenging, and we thank these leaders for stepping up for our students. We hope the folks at the State House are paying attention, because this showdown will play out again in November unless they stop the attacks on our public schools.”

The current Republican Party has reverted to the ace card it held in the 1950s: its followers refer to every government program as socialism. SOCIALISM!! This one word is supposed to terrify everyone into fearing that government is about to take away their freedoms. Those politicians who do this should be asked if they are willing to abandon their own right to Social Security and Medicare. One of their favorite targets in recent years is public education. They are trying to persuade the public that their local public schools are socialism. This is nonsense. The following opinion piece by Janet Ward appeared in the Concord Monitor.

A few years ago at a gathering in my town, a fiery speaker said that our government is reaching into our pockets through taxation in order to steal our hard-earned money to pay for programs that are simply giveaways to growing numbers of the “undeserving.” This is not true.

This lie has been created because the former president, the moneyed interests who support him, and the inventors and funders of the “Big Lie” regarding our free and fair 2021 election are painfully aware that the people they wrongly label as the “undeserving” have the right and the power to vote.

Let us be clear. The former president and his supporters are convinced that our democracy itself poses an existential threat to their way of life. They would prefer a plutocracy, a government controlled by the wealthy.

In our democracy, we, you and I, govern ourselves through representation by legitimately elected legislators. Social programs exist because we the people believe that these programs are necessary and appropriate and that such programs, like our public schools, contribute to the common good, to the well-being of our entire society. But an insidious revolution, decades in the making, is bearing terrible fruit.

The long-standing belief that public schools benefit our entire society has been intentionally and successfully undermined through a decades-long strategy organized and executed by such entities as the State Policy Network and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which provides templates of legislation to Republican lawmakers in every state to achieve such things as the dismantling of public education. But why target public schools?

Last year the Republican majority in our New Hampshire Legislature voted to approve a school voucher program. It is now legal for public tax dollars to be used to pay for private, religious or home-schooling programs over which we taxpayers have virtually no oversight. When asked why they supported school vouchers, Republican legislators, most of whom had been educated in public schools, said that they believed New Hampshire public school students were being brainwashed by teachers’ unions to believe in socialism. This is not true.

Good government is not socialism. Socialism is a system of government in which the government owns the means of production. Our country is not socialist. It is a capitalist country where individuals or corporations own the means of production and where decisions regarding prices, production and the distribution of goods are based on competition in a free market….

What will happen if Big Lies are allowed to prevail? Our democracy will be destroyed. The perpetrators of these lies will become the governors of our nation, and the dreams of Americans like Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln will die.

The death of our democracy will happen soon, on our watch, unless each of us uses the powerful weapon that our democracy has provided to us — our vote. Remove the liars and manipulators from office. Vote to restore our democracy.

This is good news that few expected.

The New Hampshire legislature, with Republican majorities in both houses and a Republican Governor, tabled a sweeping voucher bill. In hearings, public sentiment was overwhelmingly opposed to vouchers for private schools, religious schools, and home schooling, but Republicans seemed determined to push through their proposal.

The voucher bill was tabled (not passed, put on hold). It could come back for a vote. When I learn more, I will share with you.

This article by a school board member, Janine Lesser, appeared in the Monadnock (NH) Ledger Transcript this morning.

In March 2019, the ConVal School District sued the State of New Hampshire over its ever-decreasing funding. This is the sixth time the state has been sued for avoiding its constitutional mandate to fund an adequate education.

The first lawsuit was in 1993. The New Hampshire Supreme Court struck down state efforts to limit or decrease public school funding in Claremont I, II and III, the 2006 Londonderry, and 2016 Dover cases.

“With recent tweaks to the education funding formula and reductions in funding, many say that towns are at a breaking point. Teacher layoffs, cuts in programming, and even the threat of school closures have pushed the issue…” (Reaching Higher NH, Jan. 7, 2019 “The Big Question for 2019: How Will We Pay for Our Schools?”). And that was three years ago, before COVID. Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Sununu has taken the most-radical approach yet to this decades-long funding deficit. Rather than increase state education funding, as the court instructed, the governor gave large businesses four tax cuts. Meanwhile, he appointed a person with no educational credentials to lead the state’s Department of Education.

Commissioner Frank Edelblut has a master’s degree in divinity and has diverted public funding to non-public schools, mostly religious. When New Hampshire schools faced the pandemic crisis, the commissioner appointed people without experience in school administration to write “guidelines” that came out too late to be of any use to any boards or administrators. The message from the state was clear – you are on your own.

If it weren’t for the financial help from federal relief funds, no district could have survived. But the Department of Education delayed those funds to public schools as long as possible by placing bureaucratic hurdles for district business managers. Meanwhile, Edelblut swiftly sent federal support to non-public schools, barely trying to conceal his disdain for the public school system established by our state’s founders, which has been the great equalizer for Americans since our nation began.  

When thousands of residents signed in against the 2021 Republican EFA voucher bill, the Republican-led legislature hid it in the budget. That let them and the governor establish the most-aggressive voucher program in the United States without further public scrutiny. These “Education Freedom Accounts” have loose limits on eligibility, no government oversight on how taxpayer-funded vouchers are spent and no spending cap. In other states, voucher programs have been rife with fraud. Public school districts, on the other hand, are audited every year and spending is controlled by local taxpayers.

Lack of voucher spending controls became apparent quickly. Edelblut estimated $130,000 for budgeting purposes; the actual cost is now projected at over $7 million, with 10% going to a tiny, unsupervised New Hampshire agency and its Florida financial firm. Why did the budget increase? A Koch-supported lobbying group, Americans for Prosperity, mailed postcards and even canvassed door-to-door to encourage parents to sign up.

Contrary to statements from EFA proponents, such as state Sen. Denise Ricciardi, taxpayers will bear the burden of vouchers. Wealthy communities may expand funding to support all types of schools, but poor towns will have to close schools. New Hampshire now has one of the best public school systems in the nation, but this cannot continue if the state tries to fund ever more schools. Because vouchers are too low to pay most private school tuition, only wealthy families get to choose which school their child attends. If public schools close in poor and rural towns, many children will need to learn remotely, an option that has proven deficient during the forced experiment of the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, thousands of educators and school employees will lose jobs. New Hampshire taxpayers will foot the bill for students’ out-of-state boarding schools and for-profit online schools. In the current session, 175 proposed bills plus 30 retained bills pertain to education, most further eroding communities’ public schools. I differ from Free Staters and the Liberty Caucus promoting these bills. I believe that community is important, and we are stronger when we invest our time and treasure in our community, together.

Our country and communities are at a crossroads. As citizens, we must scrutinize what our governing bodies are deciding in our names. When I questioned Ricciardi about her position on a few of the worst pending bills, I did not receive an answer. 

Through its lawsuit, ConVal has stood up and required the state to pay its constitutional duty to public schools, because local property taxpayers cannot continue to shoulder this unfair system. Sununu’s administration supports vouchers, even though they will cost more, and will fail to provide many children a competitive education for a global economy.

Janine Lesser is a Peterborough representative to the ConVal School Board. She is not writing on behalf of the board.

This is a message from the Network for Public Education Action. New Hampshire Republicans plan to introduce voucher legislation tomorrow, to allow public funds to subsidize students at private and religious schools:

It’s a new year, but the fight is the same. Privatizers are introducing a new voucher variant to infect and collapse state public school systems, and this year the first case is in New Hampshire: HB 607.

Local district vouchers are a new program on top of the statewide voucher program the Legislature forced through budget proceedings at the last minute last year, despite objections from Republicans and Democrats.

This new voucher would give families up to 80% of local tax funding for schools, which could amount to $41,000 per student! These vouchers would have the same lack of oversight as the statewide program, so the opportunities for fraud are tremendous.

Please send your letter today and tell New Hampshire’s policymakers this bill would be an irresponsible, dangerous program for students that would destroy community public schools. Click here to send your email:

Now pick up the phone and call your Representative. You can find them here.

Here is a script you can use:

My name is [your name] and I am calling today to voice my opposition to the new school voucher scheme, HB 607. This irresponsible bill would take money from our public school districts and put it in the hands of private and religious schools as well as homeschoolers. I am asking that [ Representative’s name] oppose this bill and all other voucher bills this session.

This new voucher bill has no income limit for families, allows homeschoolers to take part, thus increasing local tax burdens, and locks in voucher dollar amounts at the highest level by preventing local districts from decreasing voucher amounts even if their funding declines.

Reaching Higher NH noted in their analysis that, “Each superintendent is responsible for calculating their own school district’s local voucher amount, and there is no mechanism for oversight, guidance, or direction from the NH Department of Education or any other public entity. This could leave district leaders, taxpayers, and families applying for the program vulnerable to misinterpretation of the statute’s vague language..”

Our public schools are under assault and the privatizers are not wasting any time. Send your email today.

Read more of Reaching Higher NH’s analysis here: https://reachinghighernh.org/2021/12/17/10-things-to-know-about-hb-607-the-local-school-voucher-program-that-lawmakers-will-vote-on-in-january-and-4-things-we-still-dont-know/

Thanks for all you do,

Carol Burris


Donations to NPE Action (a 501(c)(4)) are not tax deductible, but they are needed to lobby and educate the public about the issues and candidates we support.

Teachers in New Hampshire, along with parents, sued the state to block a new law that bars teaching “divisive concepts.” This law is part of the backlash against critical race theory, which is understood by Republicans to mean anything about racism or any subject that makes students uncomfortable. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that such lawsuits should add the law’s infringement on the First Amendment rights of teachers and students to teach and learn without infringement on their speech. No doubt there may soon be state legislatures banning specific books, which is also a direct violation of theFirst Amendment.

AFT_AFT-NH_VOCUS 2018.jpg

For Immediate Release
Dec. 13, 2021  

Contact:
Deb Howes
President@aft-nh.org
603-930-9248

Ori Korin
okorin@aft.org
202-374-6103


AFT-NH, Teachers, Parents File Lawsuit Against ‘Divisive Concepts’ Law
Unconstitutional Law Puts Teachers in Untenable Situation and ‘Chokes off Learning’
 

CONCORD, N.H.In a federal lawsuit filed today, educators and parents are taking a stand against New Hampshire’s attempt to implement a vague and punishing law that makes it impossible for public school teachers to know what and how to teach, as a result of a new law commonly known as the “divisive concepts” law. By attempting to restrict the way discrimination, diversity, bias, justice and struggle is viewed or taught, the measure puts educators at the center of a nightmare scenario: They would be required to comply with a law that appears to be at odds with the state’s constitution and its law mandating a robust and well-rounded public school education—an education that includes the teaching of accurate, honest history and current events.

The federal lawsuit, brought by AFT-New Hampshire, three N.H. public school teachers and two parents, aims to protect educators from this politically motivated new state law that put teachers at risk simply for discussing accurate historical concepts in their classrooms. At last count, New Hampshire has become one of eight Republican-controlled states that have passed laws aimed at censoring discussions around race and gender in classrooms, prompted by a conservative-led and -manufactured “crisis” over critical race theory. Dozens more are considering similar legislation

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire in Concord, N.H., names the state attorney general, state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut and the state Commission for Human Rights. It asks that the court rule the divisive concepts statute is unconstitutionally vague, making it impossible for educators to teach their students. 

As the suit notes, the law is so hopelessly vague and broad that the New Hampshire attorney general and state Human Rights Commission have already had to clarify it, but their clarifications have not resolved the issues and are nonbinding, putting educators in the difficult position of having to interpret several different directives to educate their students. Teachers are at risk for not knowing what they’re legally allowed to teach in their own classrooms; they fear that if they get it wrong, they run the risk of public shaming, reputational damage, or discipline, including loss of license or termination. 

In evident contrast to the divisive concept statute, New Hampshire’s uniform educational standards require that all public and private schools teach about “intolerance, antisemitism and national, ethnic, racial or religious hatred and discrimination that have evolved in the past” and that students learn about controversial events from multiple perspectives and ideologies.

The suit comes after Gov. Chris Sununu signed the New Hampshire budget bill—which included the divisive concepts provision—into law in June and the education commissioner created a webpage to facilitate third-party actions where the public could file complaints against teachers. That, in turn, led an extremist group known as Moms for Liberty to put a $500 bounty on the head of any N.H. teacher, offering cash to any informant who successfully lodges a complaint. Since then, educators report online harassment, obscenities and vicious attacks as a direct result of this political intimidation. 

Because the law is vague and ambiguous, the suit states, it is nearly impossible for teachers to follow it, making them “highly susceptible” to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.

AFT-New Hampshire President Deb Howes decried the law. “This law has created fear among teachers who are not actually violating any New Hampshire law, but fear they could be targeted without evidence by people with a political agenda. Educators are terrified of losing their teaching license over simply trying to teach. This is something I never thought would happen in America,” Howes said.

Ryan Richman, a high school teacher in Plaistow, N.H., teaches world history and is a named plaintiff in the suit: 

“I ask students to discuss events in the news and their connections with the past. Nine times out of 10, they want to discuss stories about oppression and how they’ve observed or experienced it—the Rohingya genocide, the Uyghur genocide, the Black Lives Matter movement. I shouldn’t lose my license for honestly discussing current events in my classroom,” Richman said. He also questions how, under the law’s prohibitions, he and his students can honestly discuss the Nazi philosophy that the Aryan race was superior to all others, the history of human chattel slavery in the American South and its impact on African Americans, or the deep-seated racial and cultural biases of the Conquistadores toward indigenous peoples.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, a former civics teacher, called the law “chilling and untenable.” 

“Either teachers attempt to follow a law so defectively vague and broad that they can’t fulfill their instructional duties to adequately educate their students, or they choose to teach as they have and as the state law has long required, and risk career-ending repercussions,” Weingarten said. 

“These educators are faced with an excruciating Hobson’s choice, all at the hands of this effort to smear and shame educators, divide our communities, and deny our kids opportunities to learn and thrive. 

“Public education is the lifeblood of our democracy; its purpose is to prepare our children for life, including college, career and civic participation. The core of our job as educators is to teach critical thinking and the ability to freely evaluate ideas—that’s what helps students learn, particularly when it comes to the history of our country. We must teach both our triumphs and our mistakes, whether it’s enslavement, Japanese internment or the treatment of those with disabilities. We teach so we can help students create a better future, and that requires us to learn from the past. But this flawed law aims instead to stop that, and to politicize our schools and scapegoat the people who work in them. 

“To meet the needs of every child, educators need resources, support and clarity, not further blaming and shaming codified into law. This untenable law—and the danger it poses to educators and the kids they teach—must be struck down.” 

 

 

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The American Federation of Teachers is a union of 1.7 million professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do.

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AFT, 555 New Jersey Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001 United States

The author of this article, Joe Shapiro, is a Democratic member of the state legislature in New Hampshire.

Conservative Republican Governor Chris Sununu appointed home-schooling parent Frank Edelblut as state Commissioner of Education. Edelblut has used his office to promote privatization, not only charters and vouchers, but for-profit schools, online schools, home schools, religious schools, and anything that anyone calls “education.”

Shapiro describes Edelblut’s latest salvos against public schools:

New post on Network for Public Education.

Joe Schapiro: Edelblut is waging war on education

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut has been the face of a remarkable and alarming attack on public education in New Hampshire. This op-ed from Joe Schapiro outlines some of the actions of this pro-privatization official.

The commissioner gave his full-throated support to a school voucher program which, since being inserted into the budget and signed by the governor, is widely viewed as the most extreme in the country. Estimated to attract a handful of students at a minimal cost in its first year it is now 5,000 percent over budget, at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $8 million dollars for this year alone.

This fall the commissioner was the featured speaker at a meeting of the Government Integrity Project, an extreme right-wing organization that promotes unfounded reports of election fraud, organizes protests against the use of masks in schools, and disrupts school board meetings around the state.

Also this fall, the commissioner spoke to the Cheshire County Republican Committee. It is no coincidence that soon afterward, a small group of people attended the Chesterfield School Board meeting demanding all curriculum information and reading material used in classes in order to cleanse the school of teaching “divisive concepts.”

Now Commissioner Edelblut has added to the Department of Education website, a page that invites and encourages parents and students, to make complaints about their teachers under the thinly veiled guise of discrimination based on being made to feel guilty on account of being white. This is a naked act of incitement and a call to vigilantism against the very people whom we entrust to teach and care for our children.

Whether it’s defunding our schools, disrupting efforts to keep our students safe, censoring essential discussion about race, or supporting unfounded accusations against educators, Frank Edelblut supports them all.

Read the full op-ed here.

You can view the post at this link : https://networkforpubliceducation.org/blog-content/joe-schapiro-edelblut-is-waging-war-on-education/