Watters: We must commit to education (Fosters)

Oct. 16 — To the Editor:

New Hampshire’s founders knew democracy could not thrive without free-thinking people with the skills to achieve economic independence. Our Constitution calls upon citizens to cherish education, literature, the arts, and technical and practical skills through public education liberated from church doctrine.

With immigration and industrialization in the 1800s, New Hampshire responded with common schools in every community to shape citizens and workers. Public higher education became the gem of the state with the establishment of UNH 150 years ago. In the Twentieth Century, through the Great Depression and World Wars, USNH and the CCSNH stepped up to educate GIs, a booming population, and migrants from other states and around the world to make New Hampshire the envy of the nation for its innovative economy and its robust democracy.

This commitment is why a young African-American girl, Harriet Wilson of Milford, could publish in 1859, after a few terms in grammar school, the first novel by an African American woman. It’s why Christa McAuliffe would inspire students to reach for the stars. Public education in New Hampshire is essential because the thirst for knowledge is never slaked and the need for new skills never abates in a changing economy. The challenges we face are in early childhood education, reducing standardized testing, restoring school building aid, work-force development, and reducing student debt.

As a Senator, I will continue championing early childhood education. We can use the new Every Student Succeeds Act to foster creative and effective teaching at the local level by lifting the burden of standardized testing. New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) reduces Smarter Balanced testing to three grades instead of seven by empowering evaluation of competencies developed through a practical, hands-on curriculum. I trust teachers and local administrators, through adequacy funding and support from the Department of Education, to provide an excellent public-school education.

There are students who need more help, particularly in the early years. Educators, brain researchers, and business and military leaders advocate for early childhood education and kindergarten because it improves the executive function in the child’s developing brain. It strongly correlates with graduation rates, reductions in teen pregnancy and drug and alcohol use, and an increase in enrollment in higher education. I will continue the fight for New Hampshire to provide quality early childhood education for four-year-olds. Using pay-for-success funding, this program will establish a demonstration project for children at risk, with no taxpayer funding unless matched by reduced need for special education for these children in grade three. This plan is working elsewhere, so it holds great promise for New Hampshire children and their working families.

Right now, we must fund all-day kindergarten. The current adequacy funding counts a kindergartener as a half student. I want to educate whole children all day, so they get a good start on their education and so local taxpayers and parents won’t have to pay for the half day the state now fails to provide. With declining K-12 enrollments and a budget surplus, we can invest in kindergarten.

Students also need to be healthy. My legislation established age appropriate drug and alcohol education in each school year and child sexual abuse prevention education. I will work with Dover’s Youth 2 Youth on new smoking prevention bills.

Having fought for full adequacy funding, I celebrate the legislative progress achieved in the budget and the success of Dover’s $1.4 million lawsuit victory. We now must restore school building aid so communities are not torn apart over school projects. This is why I worked so hard to get Dover $13.5 million for its Career and Technical Education center, and Somersworth $4.5 million.

Employers are crying out for a trained workforce. My CTE commission is building partnerships with businesses, and I will introduce legislation to open the CTEs to sophomores. The “65 by 25” plan for 65% of the workforce to have a post-secondary degree by 2025 is also an essential priority.

As a university professor, I see every day the crushing burden of student debt, for the student who fears pursuing a degree in the arts, or leaves teaching after three years for a higher-paying job, or despairs of buying a house. For too many students, educational dreams die at the bank’s door. We must pass a state budget that invests in higher education.

There is much to be done, but our democracy and our economy depend on it. In all the battles over budgets, testing, and local control, let’s still reach for the stars.

State Sen. David Watters