Tuesday, March 13, 2007

State Education Forums

Last night my husband and I attend the last of the State Education Forums. Just below you will find both of our speeches we presented to the legislators at the forum.

Addressing the task of defining an adequate education, committee chairman Iris Estabrook said "The Legislature takes its responsibility to respond to the court's order very seriously". I respectfully suggest that the legislature NOT take the court's order seriously and abandon this perilous course of action. As we near the end of these hearings, I would like to recap some of what this committee has heard in support of this view....

Refreshingly, some speakers even within the existing education system, called for local control, parental control, vouchers and school choice. Alas, many speakers came like kids in a candy store looking to include their pet projects. The most egregious demand was class size limitations. Inclusion of class size into the definition of adequacy not only perpetuates the "input-driven" standards deemed unsatisfactory in previous efforts, it provides no educational benefit as shown in over 85% of a group of 277 studies(1). As a testament to the self-serving nature of these demands, not a single class size limit advocate even mentioned homeschooling, the ultimate in small class size, because homeschooling doesn't artificially inflate the demand for teachers. In short, class size reduction is good old fashioned feather bedding, a giveaway to the teachers unions. It doesn't belong in any adequacy definition.

A few more examples: NH Council of Social Studies Executive Board member Ann Anthaman suggests social studies be part of an adequate education. "Media Smart" director Rona Slockour came to the microphone in Manchester to declare the value of "Media Literacy" to solve all manner of social ills.

Three NH School Counselors Association members produced virtually word-for-word identical recitations extolling the virtues of guidance counselors, including my personal favorite line from Catherine Sheridan who considers her profession indispensable in helping to "improve school transitions from kindergarten to first grade". We've also heard multiple calls for mandatory Kindergarten despite growing evidence that time at home with parents is more valuable. The gamut of demands spanned from pre-natal education to the grave. Is a pattern emerging here?

The most disturbing yet honest comments came from two school board members, one in Manchester and another in Dover who said "we need it all!" and "Let's get the money!" These statements reveal the real goal of these legal games - to provide an endless laundry list of expenses for public schools. Perpetual lawsuits will keep these expenses growing without limit. Lawsuits like Claremont I, Claremont II, and Londonderry are just the tip of the iceberg. Our legislature has thus become the proverbial Titanic sailing aimlessly into a definition of educational adequacy.

Ladies and Gentlemen, its time to grab the life vests and sound the alarm. Five forums have shown that acceding to the court's demands will open a floodgate of gimme-gimme lawsuits that can only result in broad based taxes and out-of-control spending. There is widespread consensus that the court has overstepped its bounds, having no constitutional authority to direct the legislature in this manner. Lawmakers have not only the right, but the duty to face down this threat to our liberty and rebuke the court's demands.

I therefore ask this committee to propose two acts. First, tear up the court's illegal mandate. Second, pass a constitutional amendment establishing once and for all that education is a parental responsibility, not a state responsibility. These acts will preserve New Hampshire's unique quality of life and hopefully bring an end to the frivolous education industry lawsuits. If we permit the courts to dictate education policy, New Hampshire will collapse into the tax-and-spend nightmare of our neighbors, and the public will curse the name "Claremont" for generations to come.

1. Education Week Sept 29, 1999

Jim Peschke
Croydon, NH

I'd like to thank members of this committee for allowing parents and taxpayers to participate in discussions about educational adequacy in New Hampshire. My own research regarding educational adequacy issues across the nation has provided alarming evidence against the committee's proposed plan. I'd like to share some of what I've learned.

In a winter 2007 Education Next article, James Guthrie and Matthew Springer write that since the late 1960s "plaintiffs have filed more than 125 court cases questioning the constitutionality of school district and school spending levels." "In 2005 alone, high court decisions were handed down in eight states." This doesn't sound like a case-by-case judicial review process, it sounds more like a nationwide scam. It makes me wonder if any action taken by the legislature can keep the courts from meddling in our schools.

In the same publication, Josh Dunn and Martha Derthick summarized the case against court involvement: "Adequacy lawsuits have proved a serious threat to the right of citizens to have their taxes determined by elected officials who are in a position to weigh the competing claims for public support and to judge the relative efficacy of spending for particular purposes." In other words, the court is trying to play lawmaker and is ill-suited for this task.

We the people look to you the legislature to protect our rights. It is clear that the Claremont and Londonderry lawsuits were designed by those who stand to profit from higher education spending. These groups, most notably the teachers unions, have turned our schools into an entitlement machine.

We're repeatedly assured that these forums focus solely on the adequacy definition and not on cost. This simply isn't true, nor should it be. Committee Chairman Iris Estabrook commented that the court's complaint is that current standards are "too general, not specific enough to define its cost". Apparently the court demands cost-specific adequacy definitions. At the Education Funding and the Constitution forum in Concord, Claremont lawyer Scott Johnson also said the adequacy definition must include costing.

This obsession with education spending by those who stand to gain from it is the real reason the court handed down its mandate, and its also the reason this legislature must reject the courts demands.

I am a parent and I do not want you or anyone else to define an adequate education for my child. My husband and I are responsible for our child. We do not want our right of deciding what is the best possible education for our daughter legislated away from us. If you must define an an adequate education please legislate that the parent must define an adequate education with the money following the child and not the institution. Any definition should also include legislation that will ward off future lawsuits by the Big Ed beast. The last component of adequate education which includes costs is a spending control measurement such as the annual increase in spending on adequate education should not exceed the rate of inflation.

In closing I would like to say that over the past 20 years, New Hampshire has increased education spending by 106.1%. We are ranked 3rd nationwide in education performance. We are adequately educating our children.

Cathy Peschke

Just before I spoke a superintendent was speaking about how we should consider educating 3 and 4 year olds as well as full day kindergarten. This through me in to a tizzy. In my original speech I was going to state the following "Friedrich Engels, who in his 1847 draft of the Manifesto called "Principles of Communism" wrote as one of its tenets: "Education of all children, from the moment they can leave their mother's care, in national establishments at national cost." I thought it would be to harsh so I had took it out. Now I had wished I left it in. I did not state it clearly because I was so dumbfounded by the superintendent statements but I hope I got my point out at the disgust of wanting to rip children away from their parents so they can be properly indoctrinated was indeed wrong.

Please be sure to send your definition of an "adequate education" to our legislators at adequacy@leg.state.nh.us.

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