Varied Views: Sununu, Kelly clash on school vouchers

Staff photo by Mathew Plamondon Democratic gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly speaks with supporters at the Nashua Teachers’ Union hall about the issues of education and school choice, Monday morning.

NASHUA – Gov. Chris Sununu believes giving school choice vouchers to disadvantaged and low-income students opens doors for them that may otherwise be closed.

Sununu, a Republican seeking a second two-year term in next week’s general election, said school choice is a way to help those “at or below the federal poverty line.”

“School choice is not about public versus private,” Sununu told The Telegraph on Monday. “Rather, it is about providing students and families the ability to evaluate and select the educational forum that best suits their needs.”

However, what Sununu considers school choice, Democratic challenger Molly Kelly said is a system that will drain millions of dollars from public schools, thereby making them weaker.

Monday, Kelly came to Nashua to discuss the issue, while standing alongside supporters such as Mayor Jim Donchess, state Sen. Bette Lasky and American Federation of Teachers Nashua Vice President Deb Howes.

“Nashua alone would lose up to $30 million in public school funding,” Kelly asserted regarding Sununu’s school voucher concept.

Sununu said via a proposed bill, SB 193, the two-thirds of the public school funding paid for by local taxpayers would not be used to pay for the school choice vouchers. He said only the third of the funding which comes from state government would help pay for the alternative education.

Sununu also said the number of students who could use a voucher from a particular school district would be capped so as to not create an adverse effect on local school districts.

“Under my plan, public schools would have kept their local funding share, meaning the amount of funding per student in public schools would have gone up,” Sununu added.

Sununu believes his plan would help close the educational gap in New Hampshire, while helping create more accountability in the state’s education system.

“I will never stop fighting to increase opportunity for families with limited means,” he said. “Finally, my plan would empower parents to get engaged in their children’s education.”

Kelly, however, doesn’t buy it. Speaking at the Nashua Teachers’ Union hall on Monday morning, she said she opposes making local property taxpayers take a hit to move funds to private or religious schools.

“I think, to move that money out of public education to private or religious schools is not equitable,” Kelly said. “If we erode public education, we erode democracy.”

Kelly said – if elected – she would veto any legislation that takes money from public schools to create vouchers for school choice because she believes it is wrong for the students as well as the state of new Hampshire. Instead Kelly wants to put the focus on the public school system.

“Education has always been my top priority. I believe to my core that no matter where a child lives, where they were born, or how much income their parents have – they have a right to a quality education,” Kelly said.

Sununu said, if re-elected, he hopes to move beyond partisanship regarding education.

“Facilitating scholarships to disadvantaged and special-needs students should not be a partisan issue,” he added.