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Jeanne Diestch, a former Democratic state senator in New Hampshire, recently wrote about the attention showered on the state’s new voucher program by Republican conservatives like Mike Pompeo, a likely Presidential candidate, and Betsy DeVos. Republicans took control of the New Hampshire legislature until 2020; its Governor, Chris Sununu, is a Republican, and he appointed the state’s commissioner of education, Frank Edelblut, who homeschooled his children. Republicans wasted no time in passing a sweeping voucher bill.
US Conservatives Eyeing NH Vouchers
Diestch wrote in her newsletter:
Why the GOP hates the world’s top education models
When a former Secretary of Education and a future Presidential candidate come to New Hampshire for the rollout of a new state educational policy, you know something important is afoot. The candidate, Mike Pompeo, stated at the event that US schools are falling behind because we have a “public-school monopoly”; adopting NH’s “Education Freedom Accounts” [EFAs] would allow the “free market” to correct this problem. This change is so important to conservatives that the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity is handing out supportive pamphlets door-to-door in Bedford. So let’s look at three questions:
- Why do conservatives want the free market to control education rather than local public-school districts?
- Why are so many outside the state so interested in a change inside New Hampshire?
- How will all this impact us, the people of the state?
WHY DO CONSERVATIVES WANT FREE-MARKET EDUCATION?
Nations with top education scores all rely on public schools. If the US followed their examples:
- Teachers would be highly educated, well-paid and respected. In Finland, for example, acceptance for an education degree can be more competitive than medical school.
- Schools would have shorter vacations, but also shorter school days. In China, elementary students take 90-minute lunch breaks. In Singapore, teachers use the additional time for planning lessons and collaborating on how to improve students’ performance.
- After the regular school day, learning would continue at home or in tutoring sessions, especially for secondary students. Parents’ role in most successful nations is to ensure children do their three hours or so of assigned homework.
All these top-scoring countries rely on
(Note that China is not really first; it only submits scores from 4 wealthy provinces.)Why don’t conservatives want to follow these successful models? More school days with highly qualified educators cost more. Companies want to sell high-margin educational software, supported by low-paid trainees, rather than pay education professionals’ salaries. New Hampshire’s EFAs potentially shift millions from public-school teachers and administrators to corporations seeking shareholder profits. In addition, church-based schools are seeking their share of EFAs. Then there is the fact that more-educated people tend to vote Democratic.
WHY SO MANY EYES ARE WATCHING NH EFAS
That is why so many outside New Hampshire are focused on EFAs here. National and international commercial and religious interests will be contributing to Mr. Pompeo and other conservative candidates. Donors hope that if a highly ranked state like New Hampshire can be convinced to hand their taxpayer dollars to unsupervised scholarship funds (see inset below), the rest of the nation will follow.EFAs hide spending detail from taxpayers
EFAs move millions in taxpayer funds from local school board oversight to an independent contractor. The contractor only has to report three things to the Department of Revenue
Administration: amount spent on administration, total number of scholarships, and average scholarship size. The state has no knowledge of who receives how much.
— NH RSA 77 G:5(g)HOW EFAS WILL CHANGE NH
EFAs impact far more than students. When EFAs substitute a $4600 payment for a year of public-school education, someone has to make up the difference. A religious school might charge only $2000 more per year in tuition, but how many low-income households can afford $2000 per child? The upshot is that poor neighborhoods will still need to rely on public schools, but those schools will have fewer per-student dollars to support them. Property taxpayers will have to make up the difference or close schools. The hit will be especially severe in Coos County, where thousands of educators comprise a significant segment of employees. When those schools are forced to close, most educators will move out, worsening Coos towns already dwindling populations and decreasing property values. Our most diverse populations in Manchester and Nashua are also more likely to suffer from the shift in funding caused by EFAs because they have lower incomes. In southern New Hampshire, the census showed that population did increase due to in-state migration. But what families will want to move into a state whose public schools are foundering? The answer is, those families for whom $4600 is enough to send their children to low-tuition religious schools, those families who can already afford expensive private school but would like taxpayers to subsidize them, and those families who want taxpayer funding for parent-guided home education programs. These differ from the workers attracted over the last decade to New Hampshire for its highly rated public schools. How will this affect companies struggling to find employees? No one knows, but the answer will certainly impact our economy.
EFAs will also impact New Hampshire society. Communities forced to close their schools will become less cohesive. Children educated only alongside others with similar backgrounds will have less understanding of the world and their place in it. They will be less able to succeed in the diverse demographics that will make up our nation’s future.
Perhaps conservatives have decided not to follow successful models for improving public education because they do not want the public to be educated. They would prefer people who let corporations and the wealthy take advantage of them, who have been taught to villainize a government that protects public interests.