Granite Staters care about educational issues that impact our children’s lives and academic outcomes. In mid September we invited all New Hampshire senatorial candidates to send letters to School Choice for NH about their views on education policy, and educational opportunities in particular. We will publish them without edits between now and the general election on November 6th. We hope it is a helpful tool for candidates to share their views about important education policies as well as for NH families to better know candidates.
The following letter is from Senator Dan Innis, incumbent candidate for district 24. This district includes the communities of Newton, South Hampton, Kensington, Hampton Falls, Seabrook, Hampton, North Hampton, Stratham, Greenland, Rye, and New Castle.
As a university professor, I can tell you firsthand that the American K-12 education system is not delivering on its promise of teaching our children the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. In fact, it is estimated that 40-60% of high school graduates who attend college require remedial education (Center for American Progress). What this means is that about half of our high school graduates arrive at their chosen university unprepared for college level learning. As a result, they pay tuition to learn what they should already know. The cost of remedial education at college and universities is $7 billion per year (The Hechinger Report, 2017), a cost that is paid by students, colleges, and taxpayers.
Most New Hampshire residents assume that the high school that they support through taxes is getting the job done. However, US high school student test scores have fallen behind a host of other nations, with the performance of our students ranked 14th in the world. According to US News, New Hampshire does well compared to other states, coming in at number nine. Regardless, many families want to pursue alternative school options for their children, and often find it cost prohibitive.
School choice is something that is important to many families. As an example, my spouse was told by his high school guidance counselor, as a sophomore, that he should find a private boarding school to help him tap into his creative abilities. Imagine that! He was too poor to make it work as a rich family would, but he managed to use his own savings from work, scholarship support, and other resources to attend the Putney School in Vermont for two years. It was a life changing experience that helped him to be wildly successful.
Unfortunately, many families find it impossible to fund the cost of private schools for their children. That is why I supported Senate Bill 193, which would have provided support for low income families in their quest for a great education for their children. The House did not pass the bill this session. This means that wealthy families continue to have school choice, but less fortunate families do not. The cost is prohibitive for most New Hampshire families.
Some educators argue that removing students from inadequate public schools will take funds away from these schools and channel the money to private schools. While this may be partially true, it all comes down to the quality of the education product. If a public school is not delivering what students need, or what a particular student may need, then students and parents should be able to choose another product.
Think about it—we have choice and competition at the grocery, when buying a car or a home, a pair of pants, or dinner out. We choose that product or service that best fits our needs. However, some politicians think that it is important that we force lower income families to keep their children in public schools—while high income children choose private schools—simply because they were born into a wealthy family. In fact, some wealthy politicians sent their kids to private schools but oppose Senate Bill 193! The hypocrisy is almost unbelievable. All three of my children attended public schools, and all three will have UNH degrees (Emily starts as a freshman next week).
I grew up poor, and I attended public school in a major midwestern city. Private school was never an option for me or my siblings. I graduated from a small-town public high school, and I learned what I needed to learn. From public schools I went to state universities. My success is due to public schools and hard work. I believe in school choice for all New Hampshire children, I support public and private education, and I will continue to fight to ensure that equal education opportunity is something that ALL New Hampshire families have before them.
What about the public schools? Will they see reduced enrollment? In some cases, yes. The simple answer is for the public schools to do their job. Competition makes us better, and I am confident that the talented administrators and dedicated teachers in our public schools are up to the task. I am a product of public schools and they were the foundation of my success. I believe in public education, but I also know that alternative schools are sometimes a better choice for some children.
Let’s level the playing field in K-12 education and provide a means for lower income children to have the same educational opportunities that are available to higher income children. It is the right thing to do.
Daniel E. Innis, Ph.D.
NH State Senator, District 24
New Castle, NH