Gordon's plan a slow-motion disaster
(The Keene Sentinel, May 31, 2001)

While Republican Sen. Ned Gordon’s new plan for the state government’s role in establishing educational adequacy must sound good to our harried legislators, supporters of public education should realize that this is a Republican plan to save the state money, not to improve education.

Take the funding of teachers. Gordon’s formula would pay each school district in the state $42,500 per 20 students for teachers’ salaries and benefits. There are at least two problems with this. The first is that history suggests that the $42,500 figure will never go up. For years Republicans shorted their commitment to education because they did not have the political courage to institute a fair, broad-based tax. Despite rising costs in education, the state found ways to hold funding virtually flat,  causing local districts to pick up larger and larger portions of the costs.

In fact, the state faces this current crisis because Republicans would not fully fund the Augenblick Plan, their own solution to helping property poor districts. The state never would have been sued if they had funded the program properly, but instead they gave it whatever money they had left over from other expenses, shrugging their shoulders and saying, “We know the districts need and deserve the money, but we just don’t have it.”

If the legislature is true to its past, the $42,500 figure never would be raised if it meant new taxes  A few years from now school districts would be overwhelmed again.

Another problem is that of perception. How  long will it take before teachers who cost the district more than $42,500 are considered liabilities and those who cost less than $42,500 are considered assets? What kind of pressure will be put  on principals to get veteran teachers to leave so inexperienced teachers who make far less could be hired. This kind of thing happens a bit now, but pressure will increase when people realize that the state sends their district $42,500 regardless of how much each teacher makes.

Republicans have already filed bills to allow school administrators to fire teachers more easily and to do away with teacher tenure. Everything seems to be in place.

The official Republican solution, waiting only for Gov. Shaheen to move on and Gordon Humphrey to be installed as governor, is to create a constitutional amendment which would absolve the state from the responsibility of paying for education. Sen. Gordon’s plan will allow the state to get out from under the funding obligation until then.

New Hampshire Republican  leaders have not tried seriously to solve this funding problem. Until they do, they will continue to offer simplistic solutions with a lot of unintended and unknown consequences for education.