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Laura Hainey
Sunday, March 11, 2012

Education tax credits would hurt our public schools

Guest Editorial

New Hampshire has a long tradition of citizens coming together to overcome whatever challenges we face. Whether it is the economy or education, we have always found it within ourselves to collaborate on solutions to put our state on a positive course.

The introduction of proposals for “education tax credits,” which is code for private school vouchers, is a step in the opposite direction.

HB 1607 and SB 372 are being pushed – despite major resident opposition – by House Speaker William O’Brien and his allies, who have taken it upon themselves to let outside influence guide their decisions about our children’s’ education.

Funds used to provide these vouchers are taken directly from your school district. These schemes have been tried – and have failed – in states throughout the country.

Let’s call this for what it is: another effort on the part of O’Brien and his extremists to kill public education. We cherish public education in New Hampshire, and we won’t let this happen.

Sadly, their anti-student agenda does not end with vouchers. There are a host of education-killing bills on the table that would siphon millions of dollars away from our school districts, decimate our state’s university system and put right-wing politicians in charge of curricula. These extremists are attacking our teachers who are tirelessly serving the children of our state.

These voucher bills were not in response to a citizen outcry. In fact, a recent University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll reported that 68 percent of public school parents are satisfied with their local schools. When will these legislators listen to New Hampshire voters?

The source of this legislation is most disturbing. Many of these bills are eerily similar to proposals created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporation-funded organization that exists to provide states with right-wing legislation, from eliminating collective bargaining to voter suppression.

It is no secret that ALEC has been playing a major role in the agendas of conservative elected leaders across the nation. By even introducing these bills, it is violating our long-held value of solving our state’s problems without outside influence.

Of course, O’Brien is not one to let the will of the people interfere with pushing his tea party agenda. Last year, he tried everything in his power to sneak right-to-work-for-less legislation through the Statehouse. The fact that he didn’t have the votes, public support or the governor on his side has not deterred him from his mission to disenfranchise New Hampshire’s public employees.

AFT-NH understands that money is not the sole factor in providing a quality public education. But our schools do need more resources to achieve the greatest success for our students.

Research has shown that access to classroom materials, smaller class sizes and providing support services for low-income children pays dividends in student performance. We cannot expect our schools to do more with less, but that’s the message coming out of this Legislature.

Despite the attacks, continual cuts in funding and what enemies of public education in our state want you to believe, New Hampshire’s students are doing quite well, thank you very much. New Hampshire’s students outperform almost every state in the country on standardized tests.

We are proud of our schools and know there are ways to improve. But things will only get worse if O’Brien and his allies have their way.

Supporting public education requires that we, as citizens, address a list of issues, such as teacher quality, school curriculum, building conditions and economic inequity, to name a few. Teachers, unions, parents and communities must have input and a role in making better schools for our kids.

There is no single solution that can solve these issues. Our schools will deteriorate unless we move away from punitive “silver bullets” and get back to the hard work and cooperation that has always gotten us through tough times.

We need to stop these attacks on public education and get back to working for our children – the New Hampshire way.

Laura Hainey is president of the American Federation of Teachers-New Hampshire.