Governor Chris Sununu underscored the importance of early childhood education and a 21st century education system in an article for Seacoast Online over the weekend:
This week, like so many other parents across our great state, I said goodbye to my kids as I hurried them off to their first day of school. From my seventh-grader who greeted the morning with, “I need more sleep,” to my 4-year-old preschooler who, with a tiny tear in his eye, bravely ventured into his first day of preschool. The comfort all parents should take during our first days is that New Hampshire’s education system is innovating. We have expanded choices, opened up opportunity, and challenged the old way of doing things. There is no one solution to building a robust, 21st century education system, but New Hampshire is finally making progress. From investing in full-day kindergarten to launching a statewide robotics education fund and establishing the Governor’s scholarship program, we are opening doors like never before.
I have often said that government cannot guarantee everything, but we can, and must guarantee equal opportunity. An opportunity to succeed, grow, and reach one’s full potential. I am proud to be the first governor to deliver a real full-day kindergarten program for communities across our state, which will close the opportunity gap and provide students, regardless of their economic status, an extra step up as they enter the first grade. The investments made in early childhood education will give all New Hampshire children a strong foundation for tomorrow’s future.
Full-day kindergarten is good for children and families, and a critical tool in retaining our future workforce. It is a priority for many when considering the quality of a community’s public education and when choosing a place to raise their families. It is not just a talking point, but a real plan that delivers better outcomes for kids across the state.
Our 21st century education system must meet the needs of an ever-changing society. Last week, we launched the New Hampshire Robotics Education Fund. This transformative initiative will allow every student in our school system the opportunity to create and participate in a robotics team. It helps all students engage in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math while developing key team-building skills, self-confidence and leadership. Grants will be available to all K-12 public and charter schools that choose to apply, and will help launch new programs, as well as fund the operating costs associated with a robotics team. As the needs of our workforce evolve, so should these types of educational opportunities.
Too often, we think of post-secondary education in terms of institutions. I believe New Hampshire must approach post-secondary education based on student outcomes. Let’s work to ensure Granite State students enter the New Hampshire workforce with marketable skills, whether from a two or four year school or a technical training initiative. This year, I established a $5 million Governor’s Scholarship Program to directly assist students to attend colleges, universities, or workforce training programs of their choosing, right here in New Hampshire. This scholarship program is designed not to help 10, or 20, or even 100 students, but approximately 1,000 students each year and will open workforce gateways not previously available to these kids. It is critical we understand that not every student travels the same workforce path, and it is our obligation to build a system that provides the flexibility to work within his or her ambitions, strengths, and interests.
I recognize that local control in public education is the touchstone of policy making, and that state government’s role in shaping education policy should be focused strictly on benefiting students and their families. But we cannot lose sight of what makes New Hampshire great: hard-working small businesses, a thriving tourism industry, and a culture that makes the Granite State the best place to live, work and raise a family. This week we opened the doors of discussion in reevaluating our school calendar. From our start date, to the length of the school day and our approach to vacation, I believe it is time we design our system to focus on quality, not quantity. Local control will not be infringed if we have a statewide discussion and decide as a state these are practical and viable policies. Starting the school year before Labor Day cripples small businesses dependent on school-aged workers during the summer season, impairs our vibrant tourism industry, and abruptly ends the quality time families have together over the summer. It makes no sense and we need to move away from the old school calendar to one for the 21st century.
Asking tough questions isn’t divisive and isn’t political, it is good government. We must analyze every situation from a 21st century perspective. What are we doing to ensure students today are on a pathway to prosperity tomorrow? Building a modern education system is about focusing on choice, opportunity, flexibility, and challenging the old way of doing things. The time for old-school thinking has come and gone. I am proud of the work we have done so far, and look forward to continuing the progress so that we can create an education system that works for all Granite Staters.