Viewpoint: State Rep. Molly Howard – Public schools are the bedrock of communities


For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 04-23-2024 12:20 PM

A recent Google search informed me that New Hampshire students rank sixth in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report, with similar results on other sites.

That’s pretty good, considering New Hampshire ranks 50th in public school funding, according the to U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 annual survey of school system finances. This is evidence that we value education enough to pass budgets in our Town Meetings and city elections that actually make it possible to be among the best educated, often at the expense of our first-responders or our infrastructure.

Now, the property taxes that go to the state, the ones that are meant to support every student in the state, are up for grabs by people who are taking the “public” out of education. While I am outraged by the voucher situation, I am fearful about the impact of a large exodus of students who are choosing alternative forms of education. Many of these options are using curricula derived from “values”-driven or religious organizations, which inherently limit student exposure to people who are unlike them.

Their curricula exclude what conservatives call (and the Legislature prohibits teaching or discussing in schools) “divisive concepts” but the rest of us understand to be the uncensored history and cultures of all the peoples of the United States. Families who opt out of public schools have fewer chances, or reasons, to engage in a fundamental form of community-building that is offered in public schools – a sense that our community is broader than the narrow confines of religion or race or talents or wealth or identity of any sort.

Public schools are the place where we learn that it is the responsibility of the collective to protect the individual. They are where we find peers who are going in our direction and see the work of people who aren’t. They broaden our understanding of community by welcoming all within it. They are the bedrock of American communities.

None of the conditions I describe above are uniformly present in all public schools, or possibly any less available in alternative education, but I know I personally benefited from having that school village to help me raise my sons. Together, we navigated the challenges and triumphs of the lives of our students. We learned that bullying happens, not everyone is tolerated, people can be unkind. We had to work it out together.

Public schools are fertile ground for growing communities because they are inherently inclusive and necessarily cooperative. I’m not saying it’s only possible to forge communities at public schools; I’m just saying it’s more efficient.

Molly Howard of Hancock is the Democratic state representative for Hillsborough County District 31.

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