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Delivering America’s Best Public Education

New Hampshire’s mission statement for the next generation should be: We will be the best state in America to start and raise a family, and start and grow a business. We must get younger as a population, and explicitly encourage entrepreneurship. Many policies matter, but all evidence shows that the dominant factor that will determine our communities’ ability to meet this mission is the quality of our public education. From pre-K through higher ed, New Hampshire must deliver America’s best educational outcomes, funded sustainably, and available irrespective of the wealth of your town or household. Our next governor must have both the competence to observe what works, and the courage to act on it. I will. Here’s how:

1. Reversing the privatization of public education dollars. Starting with the nomination of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, there may be no area of public policy where Gov. Sununu has been more ideological and extreme than in this area. SB193 has the effect of turning thousands of dollars per student into a voucher, usable for private and parochial schools, and homeschooling. As it is, New Hampshire’s shrinking student population is more thinly spreading public education dollars over more SAUs. SB193 will increase local property taxes, and threaten the quality of education in your local public schools. HB1686, which would aggressively expand the Interest & Dividends tax credit to be used for private and parochial schools, seeks to reduce general fund revenues by shifting them directly to private schools. Gov. Sununu and Commissioner Edelblut support these bills. I will advocate against them as a candidate, and if they are the law in 2019, I will swiftly seek their repeal.

2. State support for Pre-K. Although Gov. Sununu said full funding of Kindergarten was a top priority, he was unable to find the money in a nearly $6 billion annual budget to make it so - instead relying on Keno to fund some of the gap. We should honestly fund full-day K...and then aggressively move to provide state support for pre-K. Only six states provide no state funding for pre-K, and we’re the only one east of South Dakota. We know it improves long-term outcomes in everything from high school graduation rates, to crime rates, to average adult earnings. And professional intervention for learning disabilities and language disorders is done earlier, improving outcomes and saving money.

3. Increased starting teacher pay. In my years as a state and local government auditor, and as a mayor who did analysis of all NH school districts, the data are clear: The use of taxpayer dollars that delivers the best return on investment in all of state and local government is starting teacher pay. NH is below the national average in starting teacher pay (~30th), below many states with a lower cost of living. The range between property-rich and property-poor towns in NH is ever more stark, worse now than 20 years ago. We know the key to attracting families and entrepreneurs is quality local public education. We know the key to quality education is having great teachers in the classroom. And we know that the best way to get great teachers into your state or community is to attract talent early in their teaching career to you. I have a plan to focus additional resources to targeted communities towards lifting starting teacher pay, and encouraging affordable housing opportunities for new teachers.

4. Relieve the pressure on local property taxes to pay for public education. While Gov. Sununu’s plans would increase the pressure on local property taxpayers to pay for schools, he ignores the reality that New Hampshire relies more on local property taxes to fund education than almost any state in America. This is widening the opportunity gap between rich and poor communities, discouraging towns from developing housing for younger families and modest incomes, and ends with some of the highest property taxes in America. I am committed to increasing the amount of state education funding per pupil to a figure that more accurately reflects the real cost of quality public education, as part of a package of reforms designed to focus dollars on educational outcomes, and increase equality in educational opportunity.

5. Encourage collaboration between, and consolidation of, SAUs and districts. New Hampshire has seen a 25% decrease in the number of school-aged children in just the last 15 years. At the same time, however, we’ve seen a nearly 10% increase in school administrative units (SAUs). With about 288 school districts, and 105 SAUs, this means New Hampshire now has some of the highest administrative costs per pupil in America. We need a higher percentage of our educational spending to stay inside the classroom, because the data show that is where the biggest difference is made. By introducing a voluntary set of incentives encouraging districts and SAUs to consolidate and collaborate, we can provide property tax relief while improving educational outcomes.

6. Provide opportunities for debt-free higher education. During my years as the Director of Corporate Relations for UNH, numerous business leaders told me that the lack of available workforce was the largest long-term threat facing their business, and our economy. The cost of lost productivity and recruiting was significant - more than the cost of investing in emerging members of the workforce already in NH. I’ve developed a specific plan that provides challenge grants that fund half the cost of a year of education in the trades, community college system, or university system, challenging the private sector to provide the other half of the match. It can be renewed annually, and the student builds skills and a relationship with participating employers along the way. If the student is hired by a participating in-state employer and remains for at least a set number of years, there is no debt to repay. This is a cost-effective, targeted way to retain high school students upon graduation, bring together the emerging workforce with employers with greatest need, and address high levels of student debt.