The truth about equitable education in New Hampshire

Published: 9/19/2020 6:00:03 AM

Candidates for state representative receive questionnaires from numerous organizations. They often contain “loaded” questions, but the most incendiary was not from an advocacy group but from the League of Women Voters: “What should state government do to ensure an equitable, quality public education for all children pre-K through grade 12?”

The N.H. Constitution as interpreted by the N.H. Supreme Court requires that all students receive an “adequate” education not an “equitable” one. Under the standard of Brown v. Board of Education, equitable schools would require uniform teacher salaries statewide, a state-imposed curriculum, building aid targeted to the most obsolete facilities, etc. The Legislature is not even funding a truly “adequate” education; there is no way right now that they will find the money for “equitable.”

More significantly, even people and groups that take pride in their sense of social justice may not want equitable education. Rich districts take advantage of higher salaries to raid poor districts for good teachers. Schools brag about special frills they offer that others can’t afford. If your home value is based partly on the superior schools in your community, what happens if other towns get the same quality of education?

So I decided to see how egalitarian Concord is by running for the school board on a platform of equitable schools from the grassroots level. This does not mean that quality should be averaged among existing schools but rather that efforts should be made to bring low performers up rather than widening the gap. Instead of selfishly trying to be better than others, each district should try to improve the overall quality of education. For instance, if Concord offers an unusual class remotely, students from other districts would be allowed to join – and similarly Concord students could take classes elsewhere. Every district would benefit, but those districts presently lagging would benefit more, narrowing the educational gap.

Concord should attempt to form consortiums with other schools in Merrimack County and perhaps with Manchester to begin with. Within the group, schools would attempt to standardize curricula based on best practices which would help students that move between school districts. Union negotiations as a group would save a little money on legal expenses and a lot of frayed tempers. And as similar consortiums spread across the state, legislators might wake up as to what a truly adequate education might be and be forced to find funding for it.

(Roy Schweiker lives in Concord.)

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