We couldn’t believe what we were hearing a few weeks ago when Nashua’s Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli stated on WMUR’s Close Up that she believes the education of students at private schools or public charter schools are not “legitimate concerns” of our elected state officials.
Even worse, she further stated that the education of some New Hampshire students are “more equal than others.”
That thumping sound you’re hearing is the sound of parents across the state smacking their own foreheads in disgust as they realize that their children don’t matter to some politicians, just because they don’t go to public schools.
New Hampshire has great public education – we also have many great private schools and a growing number of non-traditional public charter schools and technical schools. For parents, giving their children the best opportunity to succeed is their top priority and the increasing variety of high-quality educational institutions in New Hampshire have further improved their options.
Parents obviously know their child best, and know-how their children learn. What politicians like Debora Pignatelli don’t seem to realize is that for some students, a traditional one-size-fits-all public school education just doesn’t work. Pignatelli and her like-minded associates want us to believe that there is a never-ending battle between public schools and all of those other “illegitimate” educational institutions. There isn’t. Public schools, private schools, religious schools, home schools, and public charter schools all have the same mission – to provide the best education possible. These different institutions, with different funding sources, can and should work together to ensure that our next generation is given all of the tools that they need to succeed.
Charter schools that are funded by state and local government are part of the public school system and private institutions are typically funded through tuition and grants and all have boards governing the expectations and processes used to teach students and they will stay that way. However, that does not mean that we shouldn’t continue to innovate and better our education system and it certainly doesn’t mean that we should dismiss parents that send their children to schools other than traditional public schools as somehow less important. So what should be done to better educational choices:
First, we need politicians to stop trying to scare parents away from non-traditional schools. Just because your child does not thrive in a traditional public school, it doesn’t mean that he or she is wrong or “illegitimate.” Some children are more creative and love the arts, some excel at math and science, some work better in large groups, and some work better in small groups. We should encourage these traits in our children, not ignore them or legislate them away.
Second, we need to encourage innovation in the classroom. If the COVID-19 crisis has shown us one thing about education, it’s that education does not require four walls, a desk, and blackboard. Children can, and do, learn everywhere! For example, we should be looking to add more technology in the classroom so that parents see the lessons being taught by the teacher so they can continue those lessons at home.
Third, we need to encourage more technical training. This piece is being written by two successful small business owners — who became State Senators — neither or whom attended a traditional college. New Hampshire needs skilled contractors, plumbers, and electricians and we should encourage students to pursue technical education when that’s the right choice for them.
Finally, we need to find new solutions to our education funding problems. Property taxes are high and a large portion of municipal budgets go to public schools. So why in the world did the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee turn down a $46 million federal grant for public education? It makes no sense. We should accept that money and give non-traditional public schools the chance to compete with traditional public schools. We may find that they run more efficiently and cost less in the long run, and most important we may realize a better-educated society when we allow our youth to excel and exceed expectations in a setting that works best for them .
Education does not need to be a political issue. Both Republicans and Democrats want their children to receive good educations. There is no need to demonize parents that choose to send their children to the school that best suits their needs, in fact we should encourage it. With a little hard work, a little innovation and an open mind, we can provide all of our children with a high-quality education. We Just can’t let politics get in the way.
By Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Clegg (Republican) who is currently running for Executive Council, District 5 and Former Senator Kevin Avard (Republican) currently running for State Senate in District 12.