Democrats Discuss State GOP Chair's Assertion That Education is a "Distracting" "Side Issue"; Compare Differing Approaches to Education
CONCORD - Education should be considered a priority, not a "distracting" "side issue," Democratic state senators and Senate candidates said today, responding to a recent press release by the state Republican Party chair.
"When the NHGOP chair called discussion of education a "distracting" "side issue," neither of his party's candidates for Governor spoke up to disagree," said Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen. "We disagree - strongly. Education is crucial to our economic development efforts. Businesses need trained, skilled workers to be able to compete - and they are going to invest in states that will produce that workforce."
Unfortunately, Senate Democratic leaders said, the record of the current legislature demonstrates they do view education as a side issue.
Republicans in the legislature, led by Bill O'Brien, oversaw the largest cut in higher education funding in U.S. history, resulting in large tuition increases on middle-class families. The Republican legislature cut aid to local school districts, raising local property taxes. They also put forward a plan to repeal kindergarten, supported by several current GOP senate candidates.
In contrast, improving education was a priority under the leadership of Gov. John Lynch and the Democratic majority in the legislature.
"We passed an education funding plan that ended 15 years of school funding lawsuits and now provides an equal opportunity for every student to succeed," said Senator Molly Kelly. "We ended New Hampshire's distinction as the only state in the country where public kindergarten was not universally available. Now every child in New Hampshire has an opportunity to go to kindergarten. And we created alternative education programs that resulted in cutting NH's high school dropout rate in half- down to one of the lowest rates in the nation."
"Wayne McDonald and the NH GOP's views of education are out-of-touch, misguided, but sadly, not at all surprising given the O'Brien legislature's frequent attacks on our public schools - attacks that their candidates for state senate have also embraced," said Manchester School Board member and Senate candidate Donna Soucy.
Republican Senate candidates who served in the House voted for a plan that cut funding for higher education in half -- the single largest cut in high education funding in our nation's history. At the same time, they cut the tobacco tax. Their decision to put cigarettes over education resulted in lost revenue and higher tuition increases for middle-class families already struggling to afford college.
"It's no surprise they don't want to talk about education - because their actions would take our state in the wrong direction," said Senator Lou D'Allenandro. "If I had the Republican record - and plan - for education, I would try and convince people it was a side issue too."
The Republican record on education extends to the gubernatorial and presidential candidates. As chairman of the state Board of Education, Ovide Lamontagne opposed expanding public kindergarten but supported teaching creationism. He blocked New Hampshire schools from receiving millions in federal funds, and he recently told a radio show: "I'd do it again."
"I think the Republican Party is also afraid of people knowing what the Romney-Ryan plan would mean to education," D'Allesandro said.
The Ryan budget, which Romney has said he would sign, would cut Pell grants; work study positions; federal funding for local public schools; and kick hundreds of kids out of Head Start. Mitt Romney, however, would get another tax cut.
"These misplaced priorities would take our state backward and hurt our middle-class families. We will take our state forward, by focusing on the priorities that matter to our families - making higher education affordable and improving our public schools," D'Allesandro said.