Wade: New Hampshire education under fire

Just a few weeks ago, the New Hampshire Senate voted to pass a bill enabling widespread book bans throughout the state. The House has continued attempting to increase the income cap to use school vouchers or even remove it entirely. All while students and teachers suffer as a result.

From pre-K to college, New Hampshire education has been extremely underfunded for years and the equity gap is only continuing to grow with the expansion of the school voucher system. We need to take urgent action to get our public education system back on track.

Alice Wade
Alice Wade

My high school engineering teacher who was incredibly passionate about his job was the person who inspired me to pursue a career in engineering. He put in dozens of hours after school to coach our robotics team and teach the students valuable hands-on skills that I’ve used throughout college and in my full-time job.

And yet, after a full day of teaching classes and several hours after school supervising the robotics team, he got in his car and drove for Lyft just to get by. That is unacceptable.

The culprit is continuous budget cuts and more recently Education Freedom Accounts, otherwise known as school vouchers. Last year as part of a lawsuit against the state, it was found that New Hampshire only provides about half as much of the funds per student necessary for an adequate education based on New Hampshire’s constitution. There have been continuous staffing shortages and teachers continue to be underpaid despite having some of the hardest jobs out there.

For years, Republicans have sought to reduce funding for public education and funnel more money towards private and religious schools. They finally got their wish in 2022 when EFAs were established in New Hampshire. Ever since then, they've continually tried to increase the income cap or even remove it entirely, costing the state tens of millions of dollars to the education trust fund.

This means that funds that would ordinarily go towards public schools which are already struggling are now being put towards people who were already sending their kids to private school. This in turn requires municipalities to increase property taxes to compensate for lost funding from the state. And because local property taxes are often a primary source of school funding, towns with lower property values often receive significantly less funding as a result.

There have been many bills put forward as solutions to the state’s education problems to increase funding, provide free school lunches, and more which have been shot down by Republicans. All while they have attacked teachers and librarians for simply discussing topics that they personally disagree with.

Much has already been said about Frank Edelblut, the state’s education commissioner, who has recently been found to have used his position to wage personal culture war battles against local schools. He even personally put pressure on school officials in Dover to get books banned from Dover High School just this past year and tried to undermine the decision of the local school board and librarians.

He attempted a defense of this in a press release which was laughably insufficient in addressing the fact that he’s using his public office to target teachers and school boards just doing their jobs. He himself didn’t have any experience in education prior to being appointed by Governor Sununu in 2017, and all 7 of his children are homeschooled.

How can we put the reins of the entire state’s public education system in the hands of someone who fundamentally doesn’t understand it?

Republicans have put forward and passed laws attempting to classify any discussion of gender, sexuality, and racism as objectionable material that could get a teacher fired. They’re trying to make teachers forcibly out students to their parents despite the risks and immense public opposition.

Thankfully, a federal judge recently ruled New Hampshire’s 2021 divisive concepts law unconstitutional, but despite this, conservatives have continued to pass even more restrictive laws year after year. As long as they are in office, they will continue these harmful attacks.

“In his ruling, Judge Paul Barbadoro said teachers were left confused as to what they could talk about and how topics could be discussed in or outside of the classroom. He said that could lead to arbitrary and discretionary enforcement.” (WMUR)

The upcoming election means so much more than the person at the top of the ticket. It’s a referendum on everything from education funding, climate change policy, civil rights, and so much more at the national, state, and local levels.

Our children deserve to be taught in well-funded facilities with properly compensated teachers who have the freedom to do their jobs, because our children are the future. If we continue to allow our public education system to deteriorate, we will all suffer the consequences in the years to come.

Alice Wade lives in Dover, NH.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Wade: New Hampshire education under fire