Jeanne Dietsch: When Society Stops Caring for Its Children
Jeanne Dietsch is a former NH state senator and currently a reporter for InDepth NH and currently publishes Jeanne’s Journal, a newsletter about policy issues in the Granite State. In a recent post, she looked at the effects of defunding public education in New Hampshire.
A decade ago, I read a story in The Atlantic about a boy stranded at sea, in a boat that had been carefully crafted and tended by his grandfather, but neglected by his parents. The motor died and the dinghy was beginning to leak, amid tall waves, while he was still far from shore.
I see New Hampshire’s children in that boat. One in every nine children in NH lives in poverty – less than $22k per year for a family of three – compared with one in fifteen adults. Between 2008 and 2018, the proportion of children on free and reduced lunch rose almost 40%. NH has among the highest rates of college debt, highest tuition, highest growth in teen suicide. Educational achievement has been demonstrated over 50 years to vary with poverty and parental education more than race. Mental health problems can be caused or exacerbated by the stress of poverty and depression.
Are NH leaders ferreting out the causes of child poverty, the causes of mental illness, to root them out? No, because they would have to admit that defunding government and giving the private sector free rein is not working. They would have to stop steering tax cuts to the wealthy and powerful and start investing in children and the future.
Instead, the G.O.P. is defunding 22 positions at DCYF, the people tasked with protecting children, at a time when reports of abuse have increased. Is it because the state is short on funds? No, revenues exceed plan. It is because the pay scale for those positions is so low that DCYF has been unable to fill 41 vacancies. Last time NH let case loads rise to 70 per employee, two children died. The problem is not lack of funds, it is lack of interest from the G.O.P.
The G.O.P is also cutting the education stability grants that the Senate allocated to property-poor districts last term. This burdens those towns local property taxpayers. This increases poverty in those towns. Public schools hand out take-home meal bags to children who cannot rely on being fed over the weekend. Public schools must try to educate children of parents struggling with addiction, children who have no one at home to care for them.
Rather than address poverty and its impact on educational achievement, G.O.P. leaders merely bandage the wounds of a sick society. They inserted “Education Freedom Account” vouchers into the budget. The EFAs give $4600 per year to people already paying their children’s private tuition. For a family living in poverty, whose parents work extended hours to get by, a partial tuition subsidy is useless. And at least one for-profit company is already raising millions in startup money at the prospect of raking in NH taxpayer dollars for providing cut-rate instructional services. The goal of the company is to replace schools and certified teachers with aides who educate children in their homes. This, according to EFA supporters, will cut local taxes because: Professional teachers will be laid off. Schools will close. And taxpayers will no longer need to maintain the stranded assets of the school districts.