Education is a public good that assures an informed citizenry for our economic well-being and community vitality. These goals put the public into public education. If we fail to deliver on these goals, we all suffer the consequences. It’s why Robert Putnam’s reference to our kids is so correct: The future of our communities and our economic well-being is dependent on public education shaping an informed citizenry. It’s why government at every level plays a role in educating its citizens and our kids.

To be sure, we expect a lot of our public schools. We expect that they hire qualified teachers and staff, establish educational competencies at each grade level, set guidelines for social-emotional behavior, assure a safe environment, provide meals, equalize access to experiences in the classroom and beyond including music, arts, athletics and health care, and personalize programs for our special education students. If this level of access was equal for all students in all schools, we could move on to talking about funding alternative educational opportunities. However, the evidence shows that these opportunities are not equal; poverty, property valuations and educational outcomes differ greatly between communities.

New Hampshire is not known for equalizing opportunity. State public education funding per student places New Hampshire last in the country; in higher education funding, we rank 49th. We have communities that can spend much higher amounts per student than their neighboring communities. And, unlike other states, New Hampshire distributes state education aid on a universal amount per student, rather than trying to make up for economic disparities.

This is where education priorities differ along party lines. Democratic state legislators want to fix the problems of disparities in educational funding, student outcomes and lopsided property taxes. Whereas Republican state legislators want to spend more taxpayer money on school vouchers, including attendance at private and religious schools, and consider local property taxes a local problem.

State education funds all come from the same source. So every dollar used to fund school vouchers and private and religious schools is a dollar that could fund public schools and reduce your property taxes. That’s playing politics with your money.

You should also be concerned that the money set aside to fund the voucher program is nowhere near the amount it will cost. The first year’s cost was predicted at less than $50,000 but will actually cost $8 million. The amount needed for next year is likely to double and could rise to over $20 million in the third year. Those millions of dollars draw upon funds that otherwise could be used to reduce local property taxes. Democrats will be working to put a pause on school voucher funding and to reset education funding priorities. If that fails, we’ll ask our Republican colleagues to join us in containing the potential for runaway spending and adding additional accountability to the use of public funds by private and religious schools.

The attack on public schools isn’t limited to raiding the education trust fund for private school education. The divisive concepts language added into the budget defies any consistent standard for educators to follow and has led to several lawsuits at taxpayers’ expense. The commissioner of education has encouraged citizens to go to school board meetings and get loud so he can look saner with his proposals. So, political partisans are doing just that, demanding scavenger hunts of texts and materials used in classes and costing taxpayers more money.

The commissioner of education has also placed a form on the department’s home-page where you can access an intake questionnaire for a right to freedom from discrimination in public workplaces and education. The bully pulpit can be used for many things, and I would think with more schools facing COVID-19 outbreaks that teachers would appreciate the promotion of vaccination clinics at public schools on the department’s homepage, but you won’t find a link to those clinics.

All of this is happening as the state faces teacher shortages in nearly every position — from science, math, social science and elementary teachers, to special education teachers, administrators, counselors and substitute teachers. We’re creating an atmosphere that discourages young college graduates from becoming teachers and causes others to leave the profession or the state.

The momentum granted to Free Staters who held sway over the Republican caucus during the last year has opened the door to those looking to dismantle the public school system. And where does that leave us?

When people look for communities in which they want to live, their primary interests are safety, affordable housing, good public schools and access to health care.

We have a duty to stand up this legislative session and take back New Hampshire from those who seek to privatize education rather than strengthen the public good of education, an underpinning to strong communities. Good public schools are the means to a strong workforce and strong communities, and New Hampshire needs a pathway to preserve each of these.

Jay Kahn of Keene represents District 10 in the N.H. Senate and is a member of the Senate Education Committee.

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