Bar News - March 7, 2008
The governor spoke at the Bar’s Midyear meeting recently and his comments turned to school funding and the proposed constitutional amendment. He told an amusing parable that in many ways was prophetic, both because he chose it as a part of his prepared remarks and for what the parable told us about the governor’s approach to governing. The parable made me think of my own children.
In his parable, the governor told us of a visit to the state house by a group of fourth graders from Nashua. The fourth graders were upset when they came to see him because they learned that legislators are only paid $100 per year. As he tells the story, the Governor asked all the children to raise their hands if they thought the legislators should be paid more and all the children responded. He then told the children to assume that they each earned a $1 a week allowance and asked the kids to keep their hands raised if they were willing to contribute a part of their weekly allowance to allow the state to give the legislators a raise. With a smile, the governor told us that not a single child kept a hand raised. “See,” the governor said, now turning to the luncheon gathering, “we must stay within our budget, even the fourth graders know this.”
I could not help thinking of how my own children would have responded to this imagined meeting with the governor. Our oldest, first, would have challenged the governor on the absence of children in the legislature. “Where are the children?” he would have asked, reaching up to pound on a desk for effect. “Surely, you cannot expect to make decisions about what happens in our classrooms and what might affect the rest of our lives without our direct input!”
Our middle child, the compassionate one, certainly would have kept her hand raised to contribute at least a little bit. She then would have asked the Governor, “Where can we bring some non-perishables for the legislators?”
My youngest would have been the best. She is a high school senior now, but I can remember her as a chubby little girl with pig tails. She would have plaintively asked, “What are the metrics here? Do the legislators deserve a raise? Have they completed their assignments on time? And,” now pacing, “what about economic development? If you help me increase my allowance by a dime, I’ll contribute a nickel of it.”
These may be demanding times, but as even the children know, we must act with three considerations in mind with respect to resolving school funding issues.
First, we must think beyond the present and consider the consequences of our actions for future generations. Schools, like most other enterprises, require investment. A failure to invest now endangers our future prosperity. Second, we must act with compassion for those in need. School funding decisions do not eliminate costs, they only downshift them to property taxpayers, some of whom are stretched beyond their limits. Third, and finally, leaders should be held accountable. They must lead, set good examples and innovate. Repeating prior mistakes while expecting different results will lead only to the loss of our New Hampshire advantage.