The O'Brien legislature was the most breathtakingly anti-education governing body we have seen in the state of New Hampshire.
If you were not a member of the 2011-2012 legislature, or if you were not reviewing every piece of legislation proposed during those two years as I did to share in the Legislative Action Alert, it would be truly difficult to appreciate the magnitude of the above statement. Frankly, it would be difficult to believe the number or scope of the attacks against public education and public school teachers that occurred over those two years (see example of Rep. Tasker at bottom of this column).
At the outset of the O'Brien legislature, I reviewed all of the proposed bills before they were formally introduced to their respective committees and reported out to readers that they were "trying to dismantle public education in our state." At the time, plenty of folks suggested that I discard the Chicken Little approach and cautioned that, to be taken seriously, I would need to tamp down my alarmist tone. As the bills were introduced and media scrutiny began to focus on their substance, folks began to say to me "OMG, they're trying to dismantle education." What I said!
Although it may produce nightmares, you can find the full list of anti-education bills along with a discussion of each here. The following is but a sampling of legislation from the O'Brien years that underscores the above point. (O'Brien apologists have argued that some of the following did not pass and were, therefore, not priority items for the Tea Party legislature. I've noted whether the measure passed or failed and provided final roll call votes that demonstrate there was ample support for each.)
- Sought to lower high school drop out age to 16 (despite the fact that raising the drop-out age to 18 in 2009 resulted in a 44% decrease in drop outs). This effort passed the O'Brien House 210-134. While the bill was killed in the Republican-controlled Senate, it is worth noting that 25% of those members also supported it.
- Sought to repeal the mandate to provide kindergarten. (This bill was, indeed, killed in the House as some have pointed out. However, the final vote was 213-134. Thus, more than half of the Republicans voting in the chamber that day supported the measure.)
- Despite being the state with the lowest level of public support for our University and college system, the O'Brien legislature stripped almost half (45%) of the funding for our university system. (Passed in budget with full support of Republican members in both chambers.)
- Stripped scholarship monies for NH students from the privately funded NH Excellence in Higher Education Endowment Trust Fund. Given that NH students carry the highest debt load in the country, this move only made it more difficult for our young people to cobble together resources to help pay for their education. Moreover, these funds were not taxpayer monies. (Passed in budget with full support of Republicans in both chambers.)
- The O'Brien legislature passed (then overrode Gov. Lynch's veto) an ALEC-promoted law allowing a parent or legal guardian to object to course material. While the law requires a parent to pay for materials to provide an alternative, that falls well short of the full costs of preparing an alternative curriculum. Moreover, the law does not address the matter of whether a teacher may find something factually untrue but be required to teach it anyway. (An example here might be parents who do not want their children to be exposed to scientific books or materials discussing climate change.) (Bill finally passed on the override by 255-112, almost entirely along party lines and with the overwhelming support of the Republicans in each chamber.)
So, How Did Our Side Do?
Gov. Hassan and the current legislature took steps to repair some of the damage done by the O'Brien years. However, just as with the fast-moving destruction of a tornado or hurricane, the aftermath and clean-up take far-longer (a fact you may want to discuss with other voters). Nonetheless, there were some very noteworthy steps taken in this biennium.
- Funding of the University System was partially reinstated for 2014 (70% of the 2010 funding level) and 2015 (90%). While that was a significant improvement over the previous budget cuts, it should be noted that this funding is still lower than it was and it was already the lowest in the country.
- In return for the increased funding, the colleges and University of the system have agreed to use the funds to freeze in-state tuition for the two years of the biennium.
- Four million dollars of the UNIQUE funds for scholarships from the NH Excellence in Higher Education Endowment Trust Funds were restored.
- This legislature's state budget provided for grants to local schools to launch their own FIRST Robotics programs in order to enhance their science and technologies efforts.
- Perhaps most importantly, the current legislature has been able to prevent legislative efforts that will diminish the quality or availability of education for our children. Although in the minority at this time, the Tea Party caucus has continued efforts to abolish the Department of Education and to weaken educational standards in New Hampshire.
To create good-paying jobs and rebuild our economy, we must ensure access to a high quality education for every one of our children. Undermining education undermines our economy. O'Brien's followers, even now in the minority, have continued to promote attacks on educational standards. You can bet that if they get back into the majority they will redouble their efforts to succeed in the mission they established in 2011.
Steps You Can Take Today to Prevent a 2010 Replay
There are 130 days to the November 4, 2014 general elections. Each action you take between now and then can determine the difference between re-electing a responsive/responsible group of legislators or a return to the destructive policies of 2011-2012. So here are some proactive steps you can take today:
- Forward this newsletter to every educator, parent and grandparent of school-aged children and person interested in education in NH who you know. (BTW, you are doing a GREAT job forwarding the 2014 Election Alert. Every day I receive requests for subscriptions!)
- Before you write a single check to an out-of-state candidate please consider those running for the office that will have the greatest impact on you and your family. (I love Elizabeth Warren, too. However, most of us have limited resources to use to help candidates and our state and local candidates need our help. Remember that even running for State Rep costs hundreds of dollars in signs and campaign literature and most of these folks are giving up an opportunity to earn money in order to serve us -- all for the princely sum of $100 per year.)
- Ask one person per day between now and the election to agree to vote. Make a list of these names and send an e-mail or note along a week before the election reminding each of the date and that they agreed to vote. Studies have shown that simply asking people to vote and reminding them of their commitment is very effective in increasing voter participation rates. (Asking them to sign a "pledge to vote" card and sending that back to them before the election is especially effective.)
PS: Don't miss the diary section below. For the Diary: Memories from the days of the O'Brien legislature:
“We would prefer teachers get jobs at private schools where they would negotiate their own contracts and make more money than the state can afford to pay them….they should consider the joys of serving their community as compensation for any pay or benefit cuts they may receive.” Rep. Kyle Tasker's (R, representing Nottingham, Deerfield and Candia) response to a constituent concerned about the legislature's abusive treatment of public school teachers.
Unfortunately, this is hardly the only time that Rep. Tasker's statements or actions have, or certainly should have, raised questions about what voters were thinking of when they voted him into office for a second time in 2012. The latest controversy he inspired involved a sexually explicit graphic he posted to a public FB page with the statement "50,000 battered women and I still eat mine plain." (Seriously, has anybody shown this stuff to his mother or the other women in his life?)
Rep. Tasker has also managed to drop one of the two guns that are part of his daily ensemble on the committee floor in the Statehouse, talked about shooting police officers and said he needed alcohol in order to work with Democrats.
Rep. Tasker is running for re-election and hopes to continue to represent the good people of Nottingham, Deerfield and Candia. You may want to take a few minutes out of your day and send along the above information to voters you know from those communities.
(NOTE: While no Speaker or legislative body is directly responsible for the remarks or conduct of individual members, it is noteworthy that the O'Brien legislature was awash with members who thought such comments acceptable and/or members who displayed truly bizarre behavior for even an ordinary person, never mind someone in a position of writing our laws. It is the aggregate of these that speak to the core and the leadership of that particular legislative body. More on this with each future edition.)
Jackie Cilley -- Candidate, NH House of Representatives, 2014, Author of the Legislative Action Alert 2011/2012
An education isn't how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It's being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don't. Anatole France
People have said they enjoyed and benefitted from my Legislative Action Alerts that I forwarded prior to and during the last election cycle. As I head into my own race for a House seat, but more importantly because it is absolutely critical that we maintain a Democratic majority in the House, keep our Governor in the corner office and gain a majority in the NH Senate, I've decided to take a look at and analyze the issues and challenges before us as we head into this election cycle. I hope you enjoy this 2014 Election Alert. I look forward to hearing from you.
This Election Alert is one of a series designed to provide important election information to citizens and Democratic candidates for office. Excerpts from previous Legislative Action Alerts will be sent on a periodic basis to remind voters of the damage that was wrought upon our state under the O'Brien legislature and to compare to actions taken by the 2013/2014 legislature to repair that damage.
It is my hope that you will share the information of interest found here with your friends, family and neighbors to help inform their choices come this November. We have it in our power to prevent another 2010. Let's work together to ensure that never happens in New Hampshire again!
If you know of someone who would like to receive this communication, please don't hesitate to have him/her send along an e-mail address to add to the list.