Like many of her fellow New Hampshire Democrats, state Sen. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) doesn’t think much of parents who want to use Education Freedom Accounts (EFA) to choose private or homeschooling for their children. On Thursday, she denounced these education alternatives as “silos” of “indoctrination” with a dangerous lack of official government oversight.
Altschiller is the prime sponsor of legislation restricting future EFA funding to students either first entering the school system or already in a public school. Students currently in EFAs could face the prospect of being required to attend public school for a year, depending on their circumstances, to receive future EFA funding.
A version of her bill recently passed the House when, thanks to Republican absences, Democrats temporarily held the majority. But it was soundly defeated in the state Senate on Thursday.
“I am extremely disappointed that Senate Republicans refuse to reckon with the runaway train they have set upon our public school system,” Altschiller responded in a statement.
“My Democratic colleagues and I will not give up our fight for our public schools, and against sending our students to siloed and unregulated institutions of indoctrination. SB 141-FN may have not passed today, but we will continue to shine a light on this reckless lack of oversight over an out-of-control program.”
The seacoast Democrat’s description of private and home school education as “siloed and unregulated institutions of indoctrination” did not sit well with parents or with advocates for school choice.
Jason Bedrick, a former New Hampshire state representative who is now a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, notes the irony of this attack on private schools coming from Altschiller.
“What’s reckless is Sen. Altschiller’s slander of the schools that thousands of Granite State parents—including Altschiller herself—choose to educate their children. As she should know from personal experience, private and parochial schools form an important part of the social fabric of communities around the state,” Bedrick said.
Altschiller’s children attended elite Phillips Exeter Academy, with $50,000 a year tuition bills, and Berwick Academy, a more affordable $30,000 per year.
Altschiller is hardly alone among New Hampshire Democrats in raising questions about the competence and motives of parents who choose non-public education options. Before she was defeated by Republican Denise Ricciardi, Sen. Jeanne Dietsch (D-Peterborough) made headlines for suggesting New Hampshire parents without college degrees weren’t intellectually competent to make education choices for their children. She also suggested one reason some parents choose home school is because they are child abusers.
Some Granite State Republicans mocked Altschiller’s “institutions of indoctrination” comment by suggesting she had the wrong target.
“Is Sen. Altschiller indicating she and her Democratic colleagues are against sending children to public school?” asked House Education Committee vice-chair Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonburo).
Cordelli also celebrated another EFA victory in the House Thursday, where the income cap on family eligibility was raised from 300 percent to 350 percent of the federal poverty level.
“The promise of public education is that every child should have access to the learning environment that works best for their children. The Education Freedom Account program furthers that purpose by empowering families to make the same sorts of education choices that Altschiller made for her own children,” Cordelli said.
“In committee, we heard from hundreds of families who were denied access to the program because of the current income limit. Students at all income levels can struggle with their education. We must realize that students are not school funding units; they are children who deserve to succeed in their education.”
Rep. David Luneau (D-Hopkinton), Deputy Ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, opposes the EFA program and repeated the suggestion that parents could not be trusted with these funds.
“The program has little transparency or accountability to guard against abuse, and expanding eligibility to households making over $100,000 a year will only exacerbate the existing problems,” Luneau said.
The comments from Altschiller and Luneau align with the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s opposition to expanding parental rights and repeated public statements that parents present a danger to their own children. Sen. Donovan Fenton (D-Keene) said earlier this week that, in the case of children exploring their own sexuality, giving parents the right to know what their kids are doing at school could “end up being fatal.”
Advocates for education choice don’t agree.
“Parents want the best education possible for their children and the Education Freedom Account program empowers parents to provide the best education,” Bedrick said.
As for Altschiller’s claim that private and homeschooling is a form of “indoctrination,” House Majority Leader Jason Osborne simply said, ‘Choice is the very antithesis of indoctrination.”