Berry: Why I voted for education freedom

FORMER state Sen. Jon Morgan ran an op-ed in this paper Aug. 9 about how the legislature’s recent achievement for education choice is somehow bad for public schools in New Hampshire, citing data from a far-left think tank.

Predictably, it was filled with half-truths and left out key aspects of the law that should be addressed and pointed out.

I am the product of both public and private schooling. My parents pulled me out of public school in the sixth grade when the public school system was not serving my needs. They made the tough financial decision to put me into private school because they knew I needed an education that worked for me. What they could not have foreseen was that my father (the sole income earner) would lose his job shortly thereafter. Soon after I was enrolled in my new school my family had no income and my dad, who had worked in telecom his whole career, was unable to find a new job as that industry had collapsed.

These were not good times, but my parents decided that my education was worth the cost and they did what they had to do. Mom went back to work for the first time in nine years as a temp staffer and they both went to night college so they could reenter the workforce full time. To pay for my schooling they pulled tuition out of their retirement fund, which was a big decision given that my dad was 55 at the time and nearing retirement. I remember tense arguments about money and how they were going to afford expenses such as the mortgage, health care and my education. Texas, where I am from, did not have a program like New Hampshire now has, so it was up to them to pay for everything. (God help you if you left a light on in a room after leaving it.)

Flash forward and now I am a state representative in New Hampshire for the south side of Manchester and the town of Litchfield. I live in a working class neighborhood with families much like mine growing up. I voted for New Hampshire’s educational freedom program for them, so that kids in my neighborhood whose parents face tough choices like mine did have as many options as possible and can do what is best for their children. I will always put children and parents first.

This is why I find Mr. Morgan’s op-ed so offensive. He lives on an expensive property in Brentwood and the elementary school he is zoned for has a rating of 8 out of 10 according to The families in my neighborhood average property values are less than half of his and are zoned for an elementary school with a rating of 2 out of 10. I am happy for Mr. Morgan’s success in life and Brentwood is a wonderful town. He grew up in Manchester and has succeeded in both business and politics. But I find it disingenuous when he writes to denigrate a program that he likely doesn’t qualify for.

The Legislature put income limits on the education savings account program equivalent to three times the poverty limit, which is roughly $80,000 for a family of four. Furthermore, the money the state gives to the family is not being “taken” from public schools. The money the state apportions to help fund public schools is directly tied to that school’s enrollment. More plainly, the money has always been tied to the child. All the Legislature did was say that the money will continue to follow the child throughout the child’s education, regardless of where they go. Saying this “defunds” schools is like saying that when someone graduates high school that school is defunded. It’s a fallacy.

From my bedroom window I can look across the Merrimack River to Bedford, one of the wealthiest towns in the state with excellent public schools. I find it incredible that people like Mr. Morgan think kids in my neighborhood should be forced to go to subpar schools while across the river kids from wealthier families have access to some of the best education in the state and many have the means to provide for alternatives if they so choose. When I voted for Educational Freedom Accounts, I voted to make sure that the river is nothing more than a town line and that every child in New Hampshire has a shot at a great education regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make.

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