September 10, 2020FRANCONIA — Members of the New Hampshire Democratic Party gathered at Franconia's new Dow Pavilion to discuss education funding failures by state leadership last Thursday.
Organized by Democratic Press Secretary Michael Beyer, the hour-long event featured North Country representatives with a background in education. Sue Ford, the Democratic Candidate for New Hampshire's Senate District I, spoke briefly, as well as Grafton County District I incumbent Linda Massimilla. Other orators included Democratic candidate Sally Sherrard, party member Susan Moore and Press Secretary Beyer.
According to Beyer, the purpose of the event was to direct attention to Governor Sununu's anti-public education agenda, which mirrors Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
"Sununu calls himself a Trump guy through and through and on no issue is this clearer than in education. Chris Sununu has spent his days in public office undermining public education by diverting taxpayer funds from public schools to wealthy private institutions. He pushed a plan before the pandemic to do it and when he failed, he funneled CARES Act money meant for public schools into private schools," stated Beyer.
Ford is currently a Representative for Grafton District Three and the Chair of the Division II Finance Committee, which oversees budgets for the Department of Education, Fish and Game, the Department of Transportation and other departments.
She said, "We worked hard on the education budget this year, knowing that nobody had enough money from the State to educate the kids. We added $130 million to new funding in the education budget, then removed $40 million to help the municipalities."
Ford continued, "There is absolutely no question that Sununu is trying to torpedo public education in New Hampshire. He did not sign the budget, so it went down to negotiations. He spent most of his time trying to take money out of the education budget. I don't know where he was going to put it, but he was definitely taking it out. The Democrats on the committee did not bend and we did get the education money that we had originally allocated."
According to Ford, Sununu and the Democrats disagreed on how CARES Act funding would be distributed. She noted that there would be a Supreme Court hearing on Sept 10 to decide if the funding should have been allocated by the Fiscal Committee.
"We talk about transparency. There isn't any. I've been contacted by North Country superintendents and gotten emails from Representatives asking questions on behalf of their Boards of Education. No school in the United States planned to bring kids back and cover extra cleaning and supplies. COVID was not in the budget," stated Ford.
According to Beyer, the New Hampshire Department of Education waited two months before telling school districts to set aside CARES Act funding for private schools instead of the designated public schools. He said Sununu set aside $1.5 million of that funding for private school scholarships.
"With his decision to assist wealthy private institutions through the CARES Act, Sununu followed Trump's Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' advice when she said she 'absolutely' wants to use CARES Act funding to boost wealthy private schools instead of using the money to help public schools," stated Beyer.
The Press Secretary continued, "In 2018, Sununu pushed a voucher scheme that would have diverted taxpayer money to unaccountable wealthy private institutions and could have cost NH school districts more than $260 million. Under that scheme, Littleton's public schools would have lost two million dollars in education funding over ten years."
According to a new study released by the Education Week news organization two weeks ago, New Hampshire had a significant drop in education quality rankings between 2017 and 2019, more than any other state in the country.
Beyer said, "Sununu's attacks on public education have consequences."
When asked what they would like to see the Governor do, Ford said she wanted to have the CARES Act funding offset the additional costs of PPE and cleaning supplies for public schools. Massimilla said she wanted to see improvements to broadband access in the North Country.
Moore said, "Sununu held back funding for two months, at a time when these students don't have access to broadband. They don't have computers or tablets and they are going to fall behind. Our students are suffering and consequently, our state is suffering."
Both Ford and Moore questioned the motives of New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut as well.
Ford stated, "He has no kids in the public school; he has not ever been involved with it."
Moore said she would like to see Sununu appoint and Education Commissioner that has an investment in the public school system.
"It's a pretty simple requirement," she noted.