Wednesday, April 13, 2011

HB 542 Ends Discrimination in Public Schools

The Senate should support House Bill 542, which protects a parent's right to control the education of their child. Despite the hype and blatant disinformation shared at the hearing, this bill does not eliminate compulsory attendance. Nor does it require the district to assume any
additional expenses. It simply addresses some very real discrimination that parents currently face in our public schools.

Remember the controversy in Bedford last December when a high school student objected to being required to read an Economics book called "Nickel and Dimed." by Barbara Ehrenreich. This admittedly Marxist book insulted Christians and promoted illegal drug use as well as being critical of American family life. The book was clearly intolerant and bigoted. Instead of having a reasoned and dispassionate discussion about alternatives, when complaints were made, the parents were falsely accused of trying to ban the book. Rather than find a solution, the parents were forced to remove their son from the public school and instruct him at home. HB 542 would have prevented this situation from escalating and given the parents a statute they could reference in their plea to correct the situation.

Other parents have faced similar hurdles when objecting to sex education and health classes. Not every parent favors the distribution of condoms and flavored lubricants to their young children. Yet under existing law parents are unable to opt out of this required course unless they have an appropriate religious affiliation. HB 542 would resolve this discrimination.

No one questions a parent's right to choose a private school over a public education for their child. But what about parents who cannot afford private school, yet have conscientious objections to a public school program or a particular textbook? How are their rights addressed?

The existing appeals process for parents, who object to a public school program or textbook is difficult and time consuming. It's designed to derail any meaningful opposition. Frequently, it's costly and ineffective.

HB 542 was written to address these concerns. It would end socio-economic and religious discrimination and allow any parents to opt out -- at their own expense -- based upon their inalienable rights of conscience. It's more cost effective for parents of limited means to pay for an alternative textbook or program, than paying for the entire cost of a private school, or forgoing a second income in order to home school their child. This bill offers parents real solutions.

The sponsors of HB 542 were working with an attorney in Legislative Services to clarify the expressed concerns of the Senate Education Committee, when the Chairman asked her Committee not to wait for this amendment and vote down the bill.

A parent's right to control the education of his/her child is guaranteed by the Constitution and the NH Republican Party platform as well. The GOP platform clearly states:

"We oppose state interference with parental rights and believe:
  • Only parents can be entrusted to control the education of their children and choose schools that best suit their children's needs.
  • Laws should be implemented to encourage school choice and competition and allow all parents to choose the best public, private, charter or home school program for their children."
Why, when our NH Constitution and the GOP platform are so clear about this issue, is this task so difficult? The reason it is a difficult task is that the Senate listens very closely to the highly paid lobbyists.

During the two hearings (House and Senate), the lobbyists from the NEA-NH, the State Department of Education, the NH School Administrators Association, the NH School Boards Association all opposed this bill. Meanwhile, the public stood united with no dissenters in their support for this legislation. The lobbyists believe that the State's interest in education SUPERSEDES the rights of the parents whenever it suits their convenience. These lobbyists benefit from status quo and live on tax-funded salaries, some earning in excess of $163,000. I only wish the average NH parent could claim that level of income. Parents, however, believe that education should be more than "adequate". They want the best education for their children.

On Wednesday, parents will see how their State Senators feel about their rights. Please consider contacting your State Senator and asking them to overturn the Committee vote support this bill either as drafted or the amendment being drafted by the sponsors.

Rep. JR Hoell (Dunbarton)