Mayor Pete and the Blackbird

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., makes a stop at Keene High School in May. 

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg released a policy plan today that sets goals for rural economies nationwide.

The South Bend, Ind., mayor’s “Investing in an American Asset: Unleashing the Potential of Rural America” plan includes provisions to expand broadband access, reduce teaching shortages in rural areas by 50 percent within 15 years, boost the share of adults in rural areas with a bachelor’s degree by 25 percent within 10 years, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and end the tipped minimum wage.

Buttigieg also released a rural health care plan Friday, which drew praise from Eleanor Cochrane of Hancock, a former RN-coordinator at Cheshire Medical Center.

“Mayor Buttigieg’s plan for meeting the challenges of healthcare in rural New Hampshire and across the country focuses on areas that are critically important right now,” Cochrane said in a statement provided by the campaign. “The shortage of primary care providers, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants, needs new emphasis and demands innovative ways of attracting and keeping those providers in rural communities.”

Tying in elements from the health care plan — which is available at peteforamerica.com/rural-health — Buttigieg’s rural economy plan addresses prevalent challenges facing rural communities, such as transportation distance and workforce shortages.

The plan includes an $80 billion investment in broadband expansion in addition to redrawing the Federal Communications Commission maps to more accurately account for communities that have few to no providers, as several other 2020 candidates have proposed in their own recently released rural plans.

Buttigieg’s plan goes on to promise to close the “homework gap” — where around 12 million kids do not have access to high-speed Internet for homework, according to a 2017 study from the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee — before the end of his first term in office, were he to be elected president.

To bolster the ranks of teachers in rural areas, Buttigieg proposes increasing teacher salaries at Title I schools and boosting grants for special education teachers from $83 million per year to $150 million.

In 2019, nearly every school district in the Monadnock Region qualified for Title I funding — which goes back to a 1965 bill passed as part of former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” — according to a list from the N.H. Department of Education.

On top of that, Buttigieg promises a $50 million increase to the Teacher Quality Partnership Grant Program to help colleges partner with rural school districts in retaining teachers.

Buttigieg would offer free public college tuition for low- and middle-income students and create a $50 million grant program for satellite hubs for rural students to gather for campus services and classes from more distant colleges.

Buttigieg promises to create “a national network of apprenticeships” or “earn-and-learn” opportunities with a $5 billion investment, promising to ensure an apprenticeship program within 30 miles of every American.

According to state Sen. Jay V. Kahn of Keene, who has advocated for workforce development initiatives at the state level, an approach like the Buttigieg campaign’s to incorporate college and non-college opportunities is key in the modern economy.

“The silos of education are beginning to merge,” Kahn, a Democrat who did not have access to the plan prior to an interview Monday, told The Sentinel.

Kahn said learning work skills in high school, on the job and in college is becoming increasingly sought after, and that being able to earn money and avoid debt while accruing those skills is at a premium in the Monadnock Region.

A federal boost to apprenticeships, Kahn said, would complement state-level initiatives like Senate Bill 276 — signed into law Monday by Gov. Chris Sununu with Kahn as the main sponsor — which use business-school district partnerships but do not involve much public investment.

In addition to raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, Buttigieg promises to eliminate the tipped minimum wage for those in the service industry.

Without state minimum wages of its own, New Hampshire’s base hourly pay is $7.25 per hour and $2.13 per hour for tipped workers.

Buttigieg also promises to end the federal exemption allowing businesses to pay employees who have disabilities less than the minimum wage.

Jake Lahut can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or jlahut@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @JakeLahut.