Editorial: Keeping teachers in NH

  • Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut answers questions from the Executive Council Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (New Hampshire Bulletin - Ethan Dewitt) Ethan Dewitt

Published: 10/8/2022 8:00:27 PM
Modified: 10/8/2022 8:00:16 PM

The legislature’s Committee to Study New Hampshire Teacher Shortages and Recruitment convened recently to examine potential solutions to the state’s teacher staffing shortage. We’re not sure much study is needed; the Legislature could solve the problem pretty easily simply by stopping its legislative and rhetorical assault on public education and providing the resources educators need to do their jobs.

First, lawmakers could finally comply with the 25-year-old state Supreme Court requirement to provide an adequate education for every pupil and to pay for it through taxes “equal in valuation and uniform in rate” throughout the state. At present, the average cost to educate a pupil in New Hampshire is close to $18,500; the state per pupil “adequacy grant” is a laughable $4,597. Because the state contributes only 28% of school funding, local property taxes pay for 62%, according to a pending lawsuit challenging the current funding system, with local tax rates varying widely among districts depending on a community’s property wealth.

The predictable result is that poorer districts suffer from lack of resources. One example among many: Average annual teacher pay in the Exeter Region Cooperative School District is $86,000; in Croydon, it is a little over $33,000. Leveling that playing field would, among other things, allow less affluent districts to compete for teaching talent, and give them a fighting chance to retain their most able teachers. And more teachers would make wages commensurate with their education and dedication.

The Legislature also could, and should, stop siphoning taxpayer dollars from the public school system to fund tuition to unaccountable private schools and to subsidize home schooling. The cost of so-called Education Freedom Accounts is currently $14.7 million and counting, most of it going to students who were either home-schooled or already attended private schools before the program began. That money could be put to much better use in resource-poor districts such as Claremont.

Moreover, providing incentives to parents to remove their children from the public school system is not a way to build teacher loyalty or encourage people to enter the profession. Neither is the constant denigration of public schools, and by extension teachers, engaged in by Republican legislators. In this they are backed, remarkably enough, by the state’s education commissioner, Frank Edelblut, whose agenda appears to be privatizing as many components of education as possible. This agenda is apparently at work behind the scenes as a task force quietly revises the state’s Minimum Standards for Public School Approval. A draft of the revisions was leaked to Reaching Higher NH, a policy organization. It concluded that they constitute a blueprint to “create conditions for breaking apart the public education system into elements that can be outsourced and commodified.”

And the Legislature should cease and desist from dictating from a position of ignorance what can be taught in the state’s classrooms. What self-respecting social studies teacher would want to labor under vague legislative dictates circumscribing what may be discussed in regard to racism or sexism or gender? Especially when the Department of Education has put out a bounty on them on its website, inviting allegations that they violated the state’s “Freedom from Discrimination in Education” law (perhaps better described as the “Freedom from Confronting Unpleasant Facts Act”). Since a violation could result in revocation of a teacher’s credentials, even conscientious teachers may believe they should steer clear of subjects they know in their hearts students ought to be discussing in order to be prepared for life in the 21st century. This situation presents an invitation to head down the exit ramp from teaching.

And, of course, the Legislature could enhance teacher peace-of-mind by incorporating the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act into state law, allowing New Hampshire law enforcement officers to enforce a ban on firearms in the state’s schools.

Instead, it passed legislation this past session that prevents state and local officers from enforcing any federal firearms laws that don’t also exist in the state statute books.

A vibrant public education system is the means by which democracy renews itself generation by generation. We urge New Hampshire voters to educate themselves before they cast their ballots in legislative races in November, and determine which candidates cherish public education, and which are determined to dismantle it.

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