By Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, candidate for governor
In a holiday opinion piece, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut makes clear that he is not prepared to lead our state’s educational system. Mr. Edelblut’s current complaint is that the Legislature’s Fiscal Committee rejected a $46 million grant from the Trump administration to double the number of charter schools in New Hampshire.
The grant would have siphoned off more than $100 million from existing charter and public schools in required matching funds. I surely would have opposed the scheme as Executive Councilor if it had made it to the Governor and Council for approval.
Less than two percent of New Hampshire’s children attend charter schools. Some attend an online charter while also enrolled in public school. Fewer than 4,000 kids attend charters as full-time students. 165,000 students attend traditional public schools in New Hampshire. The existing charters are not at capacity and can accommodate more than twice as many children as currently enrolled.
Yet, the $46 million charter grant was to increase capacity by opening new charter schools, not by helping the existing ones. In addition to the loss of $100 million in state matching funds, the charter grant would have increased local property taxes by transferring adequacy funds from public schools to charter schools and the grant made no effort to reimburse local schools for the costs to provide transportation and special education services to the charter school students.
The turmoil over the charter school grant is just the latest excuse by Mr. Edelblut to complain about New Hampshire’s public school employees. I think the professionals, para-professionals and support staff who work in education across New Hampshire are pretty terrific. The majority of our teachers have earned advanced degrees. They choose to work in a profession where the earnings are not high, yet their ability to impact our future is great. Edelblut’s complaints about educators are not effective and they certainly are not a leadership model that my department heads would follow.
Commissioner Edelblut has failed to speak publicly about New Hampshire’s real education problems. While focusing on his less than two percent, Edelblut hasn’t addressed what is holding back many of our children. New Hampshire has a school funding problem. It relies more on local property taxes to fund our schools than any other state in America. But, more than three quarters of New Hampshire’s children live in communities with below average property values. This is a problem that has real consequences. Communities cannot pay for needed educational services and taxpayers are being taxed out of their homes.
Good educational opportunities improve the lives of students and the communities in which they live. Limited opportunities undermine the chance to succeed. After almost three decades of ignoring the problems caused by our antiquated school finance system, our failure now affects most of our school districts.
Schools across the state–in Berlin, Winchester, Rochester, and Derry–are suffering. This also goes beyond the needs of children. Business people in Manchester created Manchester Proud because struggling schools hurt business development and the recruitment of employees to our state’s largest city and elsewhere. Where is Frank Edelblut and the Governor on any of these issues?
We need to focus on the bigger issues. Fairness in how we pay for education is among the most important issues, but we should also be asking whether we are doing everything we can to build on successful programs such as the Extended Learning Opportunities program (ELOs) that provide for educational opportunities outside the classroom that are supervised by educators trained to do so and subject to local district accreditation.
Mr. Edelblut wants to outsource this program and remove it from the supervision of trained educators. This is a big mistake, but apparently the Governor is on board with the Commissioner’s approach.
Climate change should be an overarching concern for every department of state government including the Department of Education. Yet, Sununu and Edelblut are silent on this issue despite the fact that many of our school buildings are near the end of their useful lives. Making school buildings more energy efficient would be a boon to schools and our economy. It would create jobs, save energy and help with climate change. Yet, we don’t even hear talking points from the Commissioner on climate and the environment.
Governor Sununu appointed Commissioner Edelblut in 2017 after narrowly defeating him in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Mr. Edelblut’s term expires in early 2021. If I am governor, I will appoint a proven educational expert as Commissioner who can lead a comprehensive effort to improve public schools in New Hampshire for all our students.
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