Sullivan District 4 NH House candidates spar over school funding

Nov. 4—Democrat Bruce Cragin, 72, is challenging two-term N.H. Rep. Judy Aron, 66, a Republican, for one of the House seats in Sullivan County. Among other things, Cragin and Aron disagree on how funds should be given to private and public schools.

District 4 covers Acworth, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster and Washington.

Aron, a South Acworth resident and former handmade-soap small-business owner, said she has a good understanding of how to get things done after serving in Concord for the past four years. Cragin, who is retired and lives in Lempster, said he feels confident in his abilities to help discern between good and bad political arguments after having spent more than 20 years as a publicly funded research scientist at various public universities and research institutes.

Cragin believes public-education funding must be protected from going toward private schooling.

"We have so many efforts nowadays to divert funds from public education to private sources to basically disassemble public education," he said. "Before we expand it, we've got to defend it. If we can find additional sources of funding, that would help us deal with state versus local funding of education."

Cragin's concern carries over into a dislike of New Hampshire's Education Freedom Accounts.

Also known as school vouchers, EFAs allow parents of low income to use a portion of public-education dollars for education environments that best suit their child's needs. These funds can be used for purposes such as tuition to a private school, textbooks, technology, special-education services and other education-related expenses.

Cragin said the program's real purpose is to accomplish right-wing and libertarian goals of getting the government out of funding public education.

"They have the effect that if you use tax dollars for these Education Freedom Accounts, the actuality is that it's money taken away from public schools," he said.

But Aron said she is in favor of EFAs because they provide options, as well as funding for students and parents directly.. She said she doesn't believe significant sums are being taken from public schools because they still receive money from the Education Trust Fund, which is funded by sources such as the lottery, business taxes and the Statewide Education Property Tax (SWEPT).

Aron wrote in an email that she supports public education, and has demonstrated this in the past by supporting the $100 million that went to SWEPT this past year. This is tax is set by the state and taken in by local cities and towns to contribute to the state's Education Trust Fund. This replaced monies that would have otherwise been paid out of local property taxpayer pockets, she said.

However, she said, leaders must find ways to control and lower the cost of educating students. She said public school budgets continue to climb while proficiency ratings fall.

"We should be asking why that is happening and not just throwing more money at it," Aron said.

In terms of environment, both candidates have different ideas about what the most pressing hazard is. Cragin believes the state should focus on getting off carbon-based fuels.

"In my lifetime carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has gone up roughly 30 percent," Cragin said. "That just amazes me as someone who has done planetary science. When you see something that big [happening], it really tells you something is going on."

The solution is not making fossil fuels less expensive, he said but going to alternative energy sources and finding ways to get people to use them.

Aron said making sure the state is cleaning up solid waste sites and ensuring New Hampshire doesn't become the "dumping ground" of New England are among her top priorities.

States surrounding New Hampshire continue to make restrictions for their own landfills, resulting in New Hampshire becoming a recipient of their trash, she said.

Both candidates agree that women should have the power to make decisions about their own bodies. Aron said she sees no reason to change the current New Hampshire law that allows abortion for any reason up until the sixth month of pregnancy. After that point, it's allowed only to protect a pregnant person from a major or life-threatening medical emergency or for fatal fetal anomalies.

Both candidates also agree housing is an issue, with Cragin saying he's interested in keeping seniors in their homes if they wish and lowering the cost of child care for working parents. He said that parents suffered during the pandemic due to the rise of child care costs.

Aron said she's more interested in protecting New Hampshire's economy as a whole so that homebuilding is more affordable, as is staying in one's home.

With these concerns in mind, she said she'll never support a state income or sales tax, and also plans to work to lower the cost and size of the government and drive down energy costs.

"I will continue to work to support our municipalities, our families, our first responders, our veterans, our farmers, and our small businesses," Aron said. "I will continue to work to bring more state and federal funding to Sullivan County as I did by bringing $25.2 million dollars for our county nursing home renovation project."

The state invested that sum into the Claremont facility in October. These funds came from the County Nursing Home Infrastructure Program for making renovations to the building.

Jamie Browder can be reached at 352-1234 ext. 1427 or jbrowder@keenesentinel.com