This is a key moment for New Hampshire’s State Board of Education. While the new commissioner is pushing for as much power as possible, the board has a new chairman, former Union Leader editorial page editor Drew Cline. And key policy issues are before the board right now.
We need emails to the board and, most of all, we need you to attend the next State Board of Education meeting on June 8 to speak out at the regular public comment section at 9:00 a.m. Please choose one of the following issues and provide public comment to demonstrate that Granite Staters are watching.
Address the board itself, not the commissioner. The education commissioner is not on the board. He attends the meetings as staff to the board. If your concern is some action of the commissioner, you are addressing the board because you want the board to take some action. You are urging the board to take or prevent some action. So it’s, “Mr. Chairman, I think you should…” Or “State Board members, I think you should…”
Address a topic of current relevance to the board or that you are urging the board to address. Currently, the ongoing agenda topics are the Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) program and the academic standards, as well as how the board functions.
Address the substance of the issue (vs. the politics or motivations). Disagreeing with the position the board or the commissioner has taken is important. Talking about the motivations of the board members themselves or the commissioner himself undercuts the policy point.
Use written remarks, five minutes maximum. Written remarks keep you organized and have a greater impact because they can be accurately reflected in the board’s minutes and be referred to in the future. While five minutes is the time limit, still, the shorter the better.
Stating an affiliation is ok but does not actually advance the issue. It’s actually better if you present yourself as a concerned individual.
What should you say? Whatever you are concerned about and think is true! But if you can use some ideas, here are some.
Additional information for points:
In his recent Concord Monitor oped, Northeast Delta Dental CEO and former State Board of Education chair Tom Raffio described his 10 years on the board as a period of comity and productivity. It looks as if that kind of record will be a challenge for the new chairman, former Union Leader editorial page editor Drew Cline. Commissioner Edelblut seems to want to show that he is the one in charge.
The problem is that the new commissioner disagrees with the board and the governor on many key education policy issues before us.
First it was full day kindergarten. While the board supports funding of full day kindergarten and governor makes it a signature initiative, the governor’s education commissioner says that research doesn’t support full day kindergarten and it causes increased misdiagnosis of ADHD. When the governor testified to the House Education Committee in support of increased kindergarten funding, the board also sent a letter of support – but the education commissioner was not to be seen.
Then there’s the proposed voucher program, which would have been the biggest in the country. The board opposed the bill as damaging to public education. The governor has repeatedly made clear that he does not support this kind of fundamental challenge to New Hampshire public education either. Asked by the board in February how he and Mr. Edelblut reconcile their commitment to private school choice with their commitment to public school students, the Governor, making clear that he was speaking only for himself, said, “I think you are misunderstanding what we mean when we say choice. Choice is not public schools vs. everybody else. Choice is really about making sure that each student has a career path…the idea that choice is about…home schools and private schools is a small piece of the equation.”
Asked about the voucher bill by the Union Leader, the governor said on April 22, “When it comes to using state money for schools,…we have to make sure we’re not harming public schools, we’re not just removing funds out of those schools….I do have concerns when you start using state funds…to [fund] schools of a non-public nature.”
The bill has been set aside for this year but Commissioner Edelblut had been pushing hard for it, saying he’s concerned about the education of all NH children. Actually, the New Hampshire education commissioner has no authority over New Hampshire private schools, home schools, or any potential voucher program. However, in his role as commissioner, Mr. Edelblut has vigorously lobbied for the voucher program at state board meetings, on the radio, in speeches and in the Legislature.
Now the state board is in what apparently will be an ongoing battle with the commissioner over academic standards. Although the governor talked about his opposition to the Common Core in his campaign, he told the board in February when making the case for Mr. Edelblut as commissioner that the standards themselves aren’t really the point:
“It’s not opposition to the Common Core…it’s not the standards that I have issue with and I think Frank would agree…it’s how we assess those standards…”
But the commissioner says it actually is about the standards. He wants to rewrite them. In fact, the commissioner says he will revise the standards whether or not the state board authorizes it. What a mess. The NH Department of Education would be calling meetings about getting rid of the current academic standards and the State Board of Education would be saying, “Pay no attention, folks. The academic standards are not under review.” Imagine you are a teacher preparing for next year. What would you think?
Although the state board’s responsibility for standards is well established in statute, to prevent confusion in our schools, the board has requested a formal attorney general opinion to clarify the board’s authority.
This kind of friction over education policy is not something we’ve ever seen before. It certainly would not have happened under the Governor’s father. Education commissioners have, as you would expect, aligned themselves tightly with the policy priorities of their governor and board of education.
The Governor and the State Board need to bring this situation under control. Executive Councilor Chris Pappas was said in the May 3rd Concord Monitor that the new board chair, Drew Cline, has “pledged to bring balance and be a check and balance on the Department of Education and the commissioner if need be.” That is what the board needs to do, but it looks like it won’t be easy.