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NH Climbs in Annual “Best State” Rankings

The Granite State is enjoying another win as New Hampshire has been named one of the best states to live by a new WalletHub report.

The report puts New Hampshire 6th in the nation overall and earning strong showings with a 6th ranking for health and education, 5th for safety, and 7th for its economy. New Hampshire comes in 40th in the nation for overall affordability and 36th for quality of life.

WalletHub used data to compare the 50 states based on 52 key indicators of livability. Those indicators range from housing costs and income growth to education rate and quality of hospitals.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York are the top three in the 2022 list. Maine and Vermont come in 11th and 12th respectively. Connecticut landed at the 25th spot and Rhode Island trailed the rest of New England with 28th place.

Louisiana, Alaska, and Mississippi were ranked the three worst states on the list.

Kenneth Johnson, professor of Sociology and Senior Demographer at the Carsey School at the University of New Hampshire, said that while New Hampshire ranks well overall, the lack of affordable housing could put a damper on future growth. Currently, New Hampshire’s saving grace is the high cost of living everywhere else in New England.

“(T)here is certainly widespread concern that the lack of affordable housing may limit the ability of families and workers to settle in some areas of New Hampshire. However, it is also important to recognize that many migrants to New Hampshire are coming from Massachusetts from the Boston metro area. Housing costs in the Boston metro area are generally higher than those in New Hampshire,” Johnson said.

New Hampshire ranked 8th in the 2021 WalletHub study, where it also placed well for its economy, education, and health, though last year it also placed 40th for affordability. Robert Ross, the Vice President of Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium, and Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Clark University said housing affordability is the most important factor when deciding where to live.

“The cost and supply of appropriate housing is a critical matter. In my own life, I have had to reconsider applying for jobs in places where I simply could not find affordable (to me) housing reasonably near where I might work,” Ross said.

New Hampshire is currently experiencing a housing affordability crisis. The rental vacancy rate is less than one percent statewide — the national rate is almost 6 percent — and the high cost of housing is driving employees away from some of the state’s biggest employers.

Gov. Chris Sununu announced a $100 million program to spur housing development and streamline local zoning in the coming months, to add thousands of rental units to the market.

Johnson said despite the high costs, the comparison to Massachusetts helps people decide to move North and further spur the economy.

“So, even though New Hampshire housing is expensive, families from the Boston metro area may still be able to get more house for the same amount of money in New Hampshire. For example, the median price of an owner-occupied house in the three New Hampshire counties just north of the Massachusetts border proximate to the Boston metro area is approximately $100,000 to $150,000 less than the median house value in the three Massachusetts counties in the Boston Metro area that are just to the south of the state line,” Johnson said.

New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate of all 50 states, and has the second lowest crime rate, right behind Maine, according to the report. The Granite State also has the 5th highest rate of people over age 25 who have obtained at least a high school diploma or higher.

NH School Safety Fund Nearly Out of Cash

As the nation reels from another school shooting, New Hampshire’s fund to improve security in public school buildings is nearly empty. 

The Public School Infrastructure fund spent close to $30 million since its inception in 2018. While there is a little more than $2 million left in it, no more grant applications are being accepted and any major reinvestment is yet to be formally approved.

That may change as the Public School Infrastructure Commission is set to meet next week for the first time since 2020 to decide on possibly continuing the program.

“New Hampshire has been quietly funding school building security upgrades for years, at the state and local levels, and we’ve made some real progress. But there’s a lot left to do,” said Drew Cline, chair of the state Board of Education.

The Public School Infrastructure Commission approved hundreds of grants to schools to pay for things like improved security cameras, stinger doors and windows, and other facilities improvements to make schools more secure. The fund was created as part of Gov. Chris Sununu’s efforts to make schools safer following the Parkland, Fla. shooting when 17 people were killed by a lone gunman who entered the school building.

Sununu put together a task force to study school safety issues. It found many old buildings where Granite State children learn are outdated when it comes to basic life-safety features. The report also found a need to create more secure entries at the schools so staff can control who gets in and who stays out.

“Facilities upgrades focus on controlling access to the school, identifying the people in the school, and slowing the progress of an assailant while help arrives. It is important to note that creating a more secure school has benefits beyond the physical safety of staff and students. Research shows that students have a fundamental need to feel safe in school, and they derive that feeling in part by feeling physically protected from threats. In this way, a mental health benefit is derived from increasing school security,” the task force report states.

Sununu told NH Journal he wants to see more money put toward making schools safer.

“From our historic school safety task force report to our first-of-its-kind $30 million fund to help every school strengthen safety in their schools — ensuring kids can be safe in school has been a priority for years, and we are committed to making additional investments in order to keep our children safe,” Sununu said.

It’s not “mission accomplished” yet. New Hampshire schools continue working on their safety plans and districts make regular updates to the state.

“You simply cannot put a price on a life, whether that is a child or an educator,” said Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut. “School districts have made great strides to produce safe and secure buildings, expand preparedness resources, implement new technologies and offer training – all to ensure that.”

Schools are required to submit Emergency Operations Plans to the state for review, and Edelblut said that has been part of the plan to enhance security and safety in New Hampshire schools.

“Safety is neither reactionary nor an afterthought in New Hampshire and keeping our children safe is the absolute number one priority,” Edelblut said.

Details are still emerging from the Robb Elementary School shooting, where a lone gunman armed with an AR-15 rifle shot dozens of students, killing 19 children and two teachers. There have been conflicting reports about the initial response, but it appears he was able to barricade himself in the school building for close to an hour as heavily armed police stood outside the building.

The political debate after the shooting is following the familiar script, with Democrats calling for more gun control and ignoring solutions to the terrifying issue.

The Florida commission that investigated the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School recommended some teachers be allowed to carry firearms during the school day, an idea that U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-Manchester) mocked when it was broached after the Parkland shooting.

“I can’t think of a more ridiculous idea than what’s been pushed by the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos to use federal dollars to arm teachers,” Pappas said.

Former Chief Justice John Broderick, who served on the task force, said that while New Hampshire schools have become safer over the last few years, the real danger is being ignored.

“The problem with school shootings is almost always social-emotional health,” Broderick said.

Broderick is a mental health advocate and has talked to students at hundreds of middle schools and high schools about mental health. He said a shockingly high number of students deal with depressing and suicidal ideation.

“We invest a lot of money, in every state in the country, in failure,” he said. “I mean we spend a lot of money building bigger jails and prisons, and usually by the time people get there a lot of damage has been done.”