Education Initiatives Proposed by Senate Democrats
By Senator David Watters and Senator Jay Kahn
Governor Sununu began his inaugural address with a request that Democrats and Republicans work in a bipartisan manner, putting aside the antagonism of the past election season and focusing on New Hampshire’s needs over the next 10 years—issues like educating the workforce the state needs in order to thrive. In that spirit, we offer five education initiatives to promote equal opportunity, strengthen communities, and pave education-to-workforce pathways.
Full-day kindergarten is offered by 60 percent of all NH elementary schools. However, the state mandates and provides adequacy funds for half-day kindergarten, so taxpayers in full-day districts must cover the costs through higher property taxes. Parents, teachers, and researchers know full-day kindergarten is invaluable in providing the educational and behavioral skills children need for further education. Kindergarten can dramatically reduce the number of students and the associated costs of individualized educational plans in third grade and beyond. NH should remove its disincentive to full-time kindergarten and provide equal opportunity for all children, regardless of the wealth of their communities. This is the purpose of our full-day kindergarten adequacy funding bill.
Likewise, the state has a vested interest in making public schools ready for the 21st century challenges of educating students to be career and college ready so New Hampshire can compare favorably with other New England states. As the Governor stated, recruiting young families to NH is crucial for our current and future workforce. And the first question these families ask is, “how good are the schools?” A school building that looks like one students attended in the 1960s and 70s does not adequately convey community pride and the quality of teaching that exists. We’ve proposed legislation that ends the moratorium on state contributions to building improvements, and restores state building aid to encourage local communities to make needed safety, technology and accessibility improvement in public school facilities.
Public high schools also need to ensure students have the career and technical education (CTE) needed to take advantage of workforce opportunities in such fields as advanced manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, automotive repair, and building trades. Greater access to career and technical training benefits all students. Our bill supports access for sophomores to attend CTEs so they can successfully complete programs, such as pre-engineering, manufacturing or licensed nursing assistants, and take advantage of internships and work experiences as seniors. Access to state-of-the-art equipment and instruction through partnerships with industry prepares students for certification and for further education. The tax credit for contributions to CTEs has been introduced. We also are supporting increased funding for dual pathways so CTE and other high school students can receive college credits at a reduced cost.
Public community colleges and universities should provide affordable access to higher education to fill NH job pathways and enable the state to compete for business and good paying jobs. At least 65 percent of all vacancies in NH by 2025 will require some type of post-secondary education. But currently, the majority of NH high school graduates attend college out of state and the price of NH public colleges is the highest in the nation, resulting in high student debt. This is why we support additional state funding for the Community College and University systems and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education 65x25 initiatives to make higher education in NH affordable to our in-state students.
We are also proposing a program to retain New Hampshire college graduates as in-state employees. Forty-one states have programs that help students repay college loans. NH is not even on the list. The NH College Graduate Retention Incentive Partnership (GRIP) enlists NH employers who pay a $1,000 bonus for each year of work completed for the first four years of employment. The only cost to the state is funding to enable the NH Department of Economic Development to market the program to participating NH employers and to NH high school and college students. GRIP is a unique NH partnership to enable our state to compete with other states and to recruit a capable workforce.
These are modest investments in NH’s future that strengthen educational quality and affordability, pave a pathway to NH employers, and enhance NH communities and competitiveness. We look forward to working with Gov. Sununu and Republican and Democratic legislators to make these investments in New Hampshire’s future workforce. We invite citizens to contact their legislators and the Governor and ask them to endorse these efforts.
(Sen. David Watters represents District 4 and Sen. Jay Kahn represents District 10 in the NH Senate and both serve on the Senate Education Committee.)