Where the NH presidential candidates stand on education

New Hampshire spends about a quarter of the state’s money each year on public education. Where that funding goes — and who can benefit most from this investment — remain key questions that have been addressed years before.

In the trail campaign, both Gov. Chris Sununu and his Democratic challenger, Sen. Tom Sherman, self-proclaimed public school advocates. Both point to measures they have supported in recent years to increase public spending on K-12 schools and early childhood education.

But on some of the other hot-button issues of education, their differences are more stark. While serving in the state senate, Sherman sought to repeal two high-profile laws that Sununu signed: one to expand school choice, the other to regulate school discussions about race and racism.

And in these matters, the division between these gubernatorial candidates shows the wide differences between the Democratic and Republican parties in the purpose and role of public schools.

The many decisions that shape education funding and policy are state boards of education, local school boards, and the Legislature. But as the chief executive of the state, the president can set the tone, prioritize and veto bills related to education.

Watch: In a recent discussion by NHPR, NHPBS and the New Hampshire Bulletin, Sununu and Sherman shared their views on education, policy and more about energy.

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Future Education Freedom Accounts

Hampshire’s new Freedom of Education Plan, which is designed to help low- and moderate-income families afford public school for educational options, has become a major partisan issue in the state House and is now on the campaign trail.

The program achieved significantly higher enrollment than originally projected and is over budget; still, it accounts for only a small percentage of public school expenses.

Last year, lawmakers proposed a plan to allow families of any income level to participate. The Sununu governor’s campaign has indicated that it is open to considering changes.

“As it currently stands, the Governor of the EFA program does not believe it needs any changes considering how successful it has been,” they told NHPR. “Despite the overwhelming popularity of the program, some have suggested changes need to be made, which the Governor is happy to consider if any legislation reaches his desk.”

If elected, Sherman said he would like to repeal the proposal. But he said he would allow students who are currently enrolled to use Education Freedom accounts even if the program is repealed, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements.

How does NH fund public schools?

Under Sununu’s tenure, New Hampshire is spending more money per student on local public schools than ever before — thanks in part to an infusion of federal COVID-19 relief funds and a temporary boost in public funding approved by the Legislature.

Democrats, including Sherman, said the state should cover the majority of public education costs, especially in high-income communities.

Sherman also attacked Sununu for lowering taxes to help fund the state’s education fund. But, despite recent revenue cuts, this fund now has a surplus of more than $100 million.

While the president sets priorities and signs the state’s economy, it’s ultimately up to the House and the Legislature to hammer out specifics on future funding for K-12 schools and the state’s university system. The state today is concerned with several issues in education funding, which affects these decisions.

Parental involvement in schools

From race lessons to transgender student policies, many of the big debates in education today revolve around how schools should respond to growing diversity and what role parents should play in the school curriculum.

Many Republicans in New Hampshire and around the country have expressed these concerns for greater “parental rights” in education, referring to a broad effort to affirm parents’ ability to control a child’s education and medical care and more. how to address gender, sex and gender in schools.

He has largely avoided these debates in New Hampshire. If Republicans retain control of the State House, these issues are likely to remain central in the coming legislative session.

When Republican lawmakers introduced a parental rights bill last legislative session, Sununu broke with the party and raised concerns about that legislation after the Attorney General’s Office said it could violate the civil rights of LGBTQ+ students. Republicans plan to introduce a new version of the bill next year.

State legislation was not the main issue in the nation of the president. But in a recent forum, Sununu and Sherman were asked to evaluate a decision by the Manchester school district to withhold information about the gender identity of students from their mothers, which has sparked lawsuits against the district.

Sherman said these conditions must be addressed on a case-by-case basis, but there may be exceptions to the release of information if the child’s safety would be at risk.

“If the parent is part of the team, then I think it’s important to incorporate the parent into that discussion,” Sherman said.

Sununu also said communication is important “if the kids’ safety and security is at risk.”

“And Tom [Sherman] Absolutely right, “Sununu added. “He tried to the team. It’s got to be clear. It’s got to be collaborative. “

A career in race and inequality

Sherman and Sununu are more at odds with the state, which prohibits education and schools that teach that someone is inherently inferior, superior, or inferior to someone in another group.

Sununu signed this policy into law in 2021 and defended it, saying it would not prevent teachers from speaking out about racism and inequality. Sherman criticized the law in the Senate and repealed the bill in the Senate.

Colleges and universities and civil rights groups are challenging the law in court, saying it has an effect on classroom discussions.

Recent polling from the University of New Hampshire suggests similar partisan divisions in the broader public. Overall, the poll found, 52% of respondents were somewhat or strongly opposed to the law, while 34% were somewhat or strongly in favor. But when it splits across political lines, over 90% of Democrats opposed the bill, and more than 60% of Republicans supported it.

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