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Sunday, October 7, 2012

On education, Lamontagne, Hassan part ways on tax credits, constitutional amendment

Better managing the state’s higher education system, building a more educated workforce and improving math, science and technology education in the state are goals on which gubernatorial candidates Maggie Hassan and Ovide Lamontagne can agree.

Education funding, school choice and a constitutional amendment, however, are another story. ...

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Better managing the state’s higher education system, building a more educated workforce and improving math, science and technology education in the state are goals on which gubernatorial candidates Maggie Hassan and Ovide Lamontagne can agree.

Education funding, school choice and a constitutional amendment, however, are another story.

Both candidates have strong backgrounds in education.

Lamontagne, a Republican, was a social studies teacher and an adjunct professor at Franklin Pierce University. He also was chairman of the state Board of Education.

Hassan, a Democrat, was a state senator, a role in which she worked with Gov. John Lynch to bring universal kindergarten to the state. Her husband is headmaster of Phillips Exeter Academy.

Still, while their backgrounds are strong and many of their goals the same, the way they hope to attain and fund those ideas contrast sharply.

Education and economy

Hassan has made public education at all levels one of her campaign’s primary focuses, using her educational ideals to drive her “Innovate NH” economic plan.

She has said a strong education system and an educated workforce will draw businesses and help create more jobs for the state’s residents.

“Education is very important to our economic future,” Hassan said. “It has always been the way that people in our state and our country have moved forward and made progress. It’s really the platform for success that all of us depend on.”

Hassan said she would work to improve science, math and technology standards and curriculum in elementary and secondary schools. The more engaging the curriculum, the more students will be drawn to those fields, she said, and the more likely they are to graduate from college with the skills for which high-tech companies are looking.

Lamontagne takes a different approach. He said Hassan is “putting the cart before the horse” in her economic plans.

It isn’t education that should drive the economy, he said, but a strong business world that should help inform what the Granite State’s postsecondary learners are being taught.

“Our teachers have the education piece down, but sometimes they’re not very aware of what the skill set need is for our businesses,” he said.

Lamontagne proposes creating a “Learn-to-Earn” program, that would help build collaboration among businesses, students and the state’s higher education systems.

The program would provide a tax credit to businesses that partner with institutions to provide eligible scholarships to students. The students would commit to working for the business after graduating for as many years as they were provided a scholarship.

“It would provide an incentive to our businesses to work with education leaders … and help set the agenda for the education program,” he said. “And it would help our students find those opportunities and help them stay here in New Hampshire.”

Higher education funding

Both candidates agree that keeping young residents in the Granite State will also require work on the funding of the University System of New Hampshire.

But while both have said they’d like to see historic $50 million funding cuts restored to the university system, they differ on what they’d like to do with that funding.

Lamontagne said he would like to see the restored funding be targeted for scholarship aid.

“In particular,” he said, “if we earmark that money for New Hampshire students, we can increase the opportunity for our New Hampshire citizens to have access to higher education.”

Lamontagne would also like to see the university system re-examine its bureaucracy and work to increase efficiencies.

While the university system has said it has already done a lot to cut costs in those areas, Lamontagne thinks more could be done.

Hassan said she would also support the restoration of funding to the state’s colleges, but said she would like to see the university system freeze its in-state tuition for two years in exchange – a deal the USNH board of trustees proposed at its September meeting.

“We are losing our young people, and one of the reasons is because it is less expensive for them to go out of state for college than it is to stay here to go,” she said. “We need a strong, vibrant university system that will train people for 21st century jobs.”

Hassan said she would encourage the state’s public colleges to open more spots for in-state students to help keep more young people in the state.

University system officials have said they often rely on the higher tuition paid by out-of-state students to help subsidize in-state tuition, but Hassan said she would look to meet with USNH leaders and legislators during the budgeting process to discuss funding and how to increase the number of in-state students.

Hassan said she would also look to harness the resources and research capabilities at the state’s colleges to help businesses reach their full potential.

K-12 education ideas

Their differences over funding continue to their plans for elementary and secondary education in the state.

Their differences lie in two key areas: an education funding constitutional amendment and a recently enacted education tax credit program. Hassan has spoken out against both ideas, while Lamontagne is in favor of the programs.

In fact, Lamontagne was one of the individuals who worked with Lynch on CACR-12, a constitutional amendment that failed to pass the Legislature this summer.

The amendment would have endowed the Legislature with full power and authority over school finance, education standards and making local schools accountable to taxpayers.

Lamontagne said the amendment would have restored local control to the state’s education system and allowed the Legislature to target aid to the districts most in need.

“This is one of the major challenges facing New Hampshire in terms of realigning the authority over public education,” he said. “I believe strongly that this is the direction we should be moving toward in the future, and as governor, I would continue to work with the Legislature to make sure that we do in fact put an appropriate constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2014.”

Hassan, however, has said such an amendment would effectively remove the state’s responsibility to fund education and could shift that burden onto the state’s property owners.

Those districts not identified as “the neediest” may receive no funding at all, she said.

Lamontagne “would allow the state to give no money to our local communities … and that would hurt our children and leave our families behind,” she said.

Hassan has spoken out against an education tax credit program adopted by the Legislature this summer.

The program provides a tax credit to businesses that contribute toward scholarships for Granite State students interested in moving from the public school system to a private school.

While Lamontagne, who supports this program, has said it would give the state the ultimate local control, putting school choice directly into the hands of students and parents, Hassan has said it would divert needed education money to private schools that have no accountability to the state.

Both say they support the idea of public charter schools, although they differ slightly on funding them.

Lamontagne denounced the recent state Board of Education decision to enact a moratorium on new charter schools and said it’s the board’s responsibility to examine schools based on merit, not on the likelihood of funding.

Lamontagne said he was on the board when the state passed charter school legislation in 1995, and if elected governor, he would work with legislators to ensure that charter school support is a priority.

Hassan also voiced support for charter schools, saying they provide the best learning environments for many students. But she stopped short of calling the moratorium a mistake.

Among their many differences, there is one thing they have in common: They both believe they’re the best choice to lead the state’s educational systems forward.

Danielle Curtis can be reached
at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua