InDepthNH.org (https://indepthnh.org/2024/06/22/distant-dome-the-war-on-education-is-in-full-swing/)

Garry Rayno is InDepthNH.org’s State House Bureau Chief. He is pictured in the press room at the State House in Concord.

Public education has been since its inception with the work of Horace Mann, the great equalizer.

Students from poor families have been able to compete with students from the other side of the tracks, maybe not in reality, but close enough to at least have an opportunity to excel.

Many of the founding fathers understood the need for an educated public if democracy was going to survive and thrive.

A responsible citizen is an informed citizen, and that appears to be the problem today. Too many people interested in power instead of governing don’t want a truly informed public. Instead, they want enough of the public spoon fed “alternative facts,” conspiracy theories, and outright lies to ensure they retain power although they have views that are both harmful to the majority of citizens and allow the tyranny of the minority to overturn the will of the majority.

At the heart of the minority’s transformation plan is the destruction of the public school system.

New Hampshire has had a front row seat to the war on education since Chris Sununu was elected governor and named his rival for the Republican nomination in 2016, Frank Edelblut, to be Education Commissioner, a man without any experience in public education, which was the first for someone holding that position in our lifetime.

If Sununu did not know what would happen when he put Edelblut in charge of this critical state department, shame on him, because Edelblut’s one term in the House was a roadmap for his actions during his two terms as commissioner, his second ending in March 2025.

Sununu has also packed the State Board of Education with school choice advocates instead of supporters of public education, so you have the two entities in the executive branch responsible for the state’s public education systems, maybe not anti-public schools, but certainly not advocates for the state’s public education system.

According to the statutes, the education commissioner “is responsible for the organizational goals of the department and represents the public interest in the administration of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of administrative and instructional services to all public schools in New Hampshire.”

Notice it says public schools, not private schools or religious schools, or homeschooling, or learning pods, or any of the other non-public entities that are approved vendors under the state’s Education Freedom Account program, some with questionable philosophies or intent.

An attempt by lawmakers this year to better define the education commissioner’s qualifications and responsibilities to the public school system was defeated this term by the same element that pushed to establish the EFA program and then to expand it, although this year’s attempt to increase the income threshold to participate in the program failed on the last day of the session to act on bills.

The outright attacks on public education began in New Hampshire about a decade ago but gained more warriors as FreeStaters/Libertarians swelled the ranks of the House and Senate Republican members.

The attack on public education here has been much the same as it has been in other states, mostly in the south and the west, with claims of the indoctrination of students by leftwing faculty members.

They have also attacked educators directly and have tried to pack school boards — without much success — to undermine curriculum, educators and slash budgets as happened in Croydon several years ago when the annual school meeting was poorly attended due to a snowstorm.

The Republican majority in the 2021-2022 legislature passed the state’s divisive concepts law forbidding teaching controversial subjects such as institutional racism.

The law was recently found unconstitutional by a US District Court judge.

That was the same term the EFA program was approved after earlier unsuccessful attempts.

Both the EFA program and the divisive concepts law were included in the state’s biennial budget package because they were not likely to pass on their own.

The same folks also tied education into the trumped out recent outrage over the LGBTQ community and sold it as an attack on parental rights.

The intent was to start a war between parents and educators, although parents already have many of the rights touted by the anti-public school advocates.

The theory touted was that educators were keeping information from parents about their students and their sexual identification and that educators were urging students to explore different sexual identities.

Then came the book banning other areas of the country experienced like Florida where some school libraries were stripped of books.

The red herring advocates touted here came from a national app that contains almost every book published that students could access both in schools and at home, and not on school library shelves.

Some tried to enlist town and city libraries in the surveillance of children and what they read and accessed, but that did not go very far.

All of this goes to create the appearance that schools are hotbeds of leftist politics and anti-parental values, some fueled by Edelblut in an op-ed he sent to media outlets.

And despite all this ginned up controversy, local public schools that educate about 90 percent of the school age children in the state remain very popular with parents and the public at large.

If that is true, you have to ask what is behind the push to demonize public schools like political candidates demonize opponents.

Keep in mind this attack on public education occurs at the same time when the superior court’s latest education funding decision says the state does not provide enough money to cover the cost of an adequate education for every student and the way it raises its biggest contribution to public education — the Statewide Education Property Tax — is unconstitutional.

Education is governments’ —not just state government’s — single biggest expense, costing about $3.5 billion a year.

If you are a Libertarian or Free Stater who believes “taxation is theft,” destroying public schools will shift the cost directly to parents, and you could keep a lot more of your money to spend as you see fit and not for the good of society.

And if you espouse the philosophy of the Koch Foundation or former US Education Commissioner, Betsy DeVos, you not only keep more of your money, one of the largest union-backed workforces in the country will be dismantled when certified teachers are no longer needed.

Without a public education system, a child would receive the education his or her parents could afford and for many, particularly minorities, and the historically poor, that may not be much beyond the time they turn 16 and have to go to work to keep the family treading the economic waters.

And then maybe they will work for a lot less than if they had a high school, or even a college education.

And without even an adequate education, how informed will the general public be or how capable of the critical thinking needed to realize all those folks touting their parental rights really do not have their best interests at heart.

Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.

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By JEFFREY HASTINGS

MANCHESTER, NH – Manchester and several towns were under tornado watches and warnings when lightning struck on the west side and caused a house fire.

See multiple updates from the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine added to the top of the story.

The latest from the National Weather Service at 6:27 a.m. Sunday:

SIGNIFICANT SEVERE WEATHER RISK JUNE 23* Numerous severe storms are expected today across parts of NH and ME.

PREPARE NOW FOR SEVERE STORMS EXPECTED ON SUNDAY

CONCORD, N.H. – The National Weather Service (NWS) in Gray, Maine, warns residents and visitors in New Hampshire that there is an enhanced risk for severe storms Sunday.

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