Executive Council candidate responds to Superior Court decision on state education grants

Nashua, NH - NH Executive Council candidate Dan Weeks (D-Nashua) applauded a Sullivan County Superior Court ruling yesterday to reject as unconstitutional the NH Legislature's spending caps on "adequacy grants" to public schools. The challenge brought by the City of Dover and its school district could have sweeping consequences for public school students in Dover and nearly 40 other communities across New Hampshire, whose state funding grants have fallen far short of the state's own definition of "adequate education."

A series of Claremont court cases beginning in the 1980s established the state's obligation to define and pay for an adequate public education for all children under the NH Constitution. Legislative leaders have stated the funding problems will be fixed by 2018. 

"Yesterday's Superior Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of the NH Legislature's education spending cap is not just a win for Dover – it's a win for thousands of NH school children statewide who have been denied their constitutional right to an adequate education," Weeks said. "I have seen the harmful effects of under-investing in public education since my days as an AmeriCorps volunteer teaching at an inner-city public school in Washington, DC and serving as a director with City Year New Hampshire in Manchester's highest-poverty schools. When we under-fund public education, we stunt our children's intellectual growth and cause long-term harm to society."

From 2001-02, Weeks served as a full-time AmeriCorps member with City Year Washington, DC before enrolling in college. During college, he worked as a tutor and mentor to public school students in New Haven, CT and as a substitute teacher in New Hampshire. He later served as Development and External Affairs Director at City Year New Hampshire. 

Weeks concluded, "The Dover decision is a timely reminder that the penny-wise and pound-foolish policies supported by my opponent should have no place in either the state legislature or the Executive Council. We must make smart investments for the future – in education, infrastructure, public health, and more – so that all our children have the chance to realize their God-given potential and be contributing members to society."


Op-Ed: Closing the Opportunity Gap

The Nashua Telegraph
By Daniel Weeks

My friend Bill wasn't planning on saving any lives when he joined AmeriCorps and began his year of service at an inner-city elementary school in Manchester. His main purpose was to help his students make it through fifth grade, develop some marketable skills of his own, and save a little money for college. But early last year, one of the students he tutored revealed to Bill that he wanted to commit suicide. The child was 11 years old.

There is a wide and growing gap in American society between people like me who were raised in stable homes and supportive communities, and students like Bill's who "picked the wrong parents," to borrow from Robert Putnam's phrase in "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis."

More than one in five Americans below the age of 18 currently lives in poverty, including one in four children in Manchester and one in six children in Nashua. Half of them live in extreme poverty, with less than $12,000 per year to cover basic needs for a family of four. The majority are raised in single-parent homes and high-poverty communities where hunger and homelessness, physical and emotional abuse, unemployment or low-wage work, violence and substance abuse are regular facts of life.

Taken together, these facts produce a dangerous cocktail known as "toxic stress." According to Harvard's Center on the Developing Child, intense or prolonged activation of the child's stress response system in environments like inner-city Manchester can severely disrupt brain and organ development. The results include cognitive impairment and health problems throughout life, like diabetes, substance abuse, heart disease, and depression. It's as if the developing brain has been hijacked.

Faced with toxic stress and limited educational opportunities, around half of impoverished youth drop out of high school and less than one in ten make it through college. High school dropouts are four times more likely than college-educated youth to be unemployed and nearly 20 times more likely to end up behind bars - a permenent black mark when it comes to future employment and even voting in many states. The lifetime cost to society per high school dropout is nearly $300,000.

And contrary to the "American Dream" of equal opportunity for all, new data reveal that poor kids who score high on their exams are less likely to graduate college than rich kids with low scores, according to Robert Putnam. Indeed, nearly half of all people raised in persistent poverty remain poor as adults, thereby transmitting that same status to their kids in recurring cycles of economic hardship, social isolation, and political exclusion.

There is no single, silver-bullet solution to America's growing opportunity gap. Investing in high-quality early childhood programs; encouraging stable two-parent homes; expanding earned income tax credits to buttress low-wage work; and providing paid family leave and a livable wage for women and men alike, are among the many credible responses experts recommend. Many of these ideas already enjoy broad bipartisan support - if not the political will to be enacted in Washington, D.C.

But there is one idea, already in effect, that we would do well to expand today if we wish to resurrect the American Dream and give a helping hand to kids like Bill's: national service.

When young people give a year or more of their lives to serving their communities through City Year, VISTA, and other AmeriCorps programs, they change themselves and their communities for the better. In Manchester and 26 other cities around the country, 3,000 City Year corps members, ages 18-24, are serving as full-time tutors, mentors, and role models to at-risk youth. Their "whole school, whole child" approach is a proven, cost-effective means of increasing attendance, behavior, and course performance for struggling students.

Sometimes, it even saves lives. Although Bill is quick to point out that his job was not to manage complex interventions or treat mental illness, he is grateful that he could be there in his student's hour of need - in a way that no other adult was there. Because he had earned the child's trust through service, Bill was able to refer the student to to needed care. God willing, he does not need it any more.

If we take seriously our country's commitment to equal opportunity for all, we cannot ignore the plight of kids like Bill's or the potential of national service to help close the opportunity gap. As the New Hampshire presidential primary enters its final stage, let's make sure the men and women who aspire to lead America cannot ignore it either.