As part of our series, "The First Decade," Gov. Maggie Hassan sat down with NHPR's Morning Edition host Rick Ganley to talk about what role she sees state government playing in helping to close the opportunity gap.
The research is clear that there’s a growing opportunity gap, making it more challenging for poor kids to achieve the American dream. Do you see that opportunity gap growing for children in New Hampshire?
One of the things we focus on and I focus on every day is how to expand middle class opportunity, how to help create jobs and help businesses create jobs here in New Hampshire. And so as I see evidence of a widening opportunity gap, what I’ve tried to do in the budget that is currently before the Legislature is really focus on how we strengthen what I call the opportunity infrastructure.
How do you make sure that a young person has the opportunity to be healthy and to go to a school where they can learn the skills they will need for 21st-century jobs? How do we make sure that our educators and our businesses are learning from each other, so that our schools reflect that curriculum that our kids will need?
It also impacts transportation infrastructure. It impacts public works infrastructure. It’s been critical that we invest and build on the foundation that we put together in our last bipartisan budget, so that every Granite Stater has the opportunity to succeed.
Obviously, access to education is a huge factor. From your perspective, does a child living in the inner-city of Manchester, being raised by a single parent working two or three jobs, have access to the same opportunities as say a child living in a town like Hopkinton?
Well, certainly the data would suggest that the child with a single parent who’s working multiple jobs will have more challenges and perhaps less opportunities. Our job is to make sure that no matter what that child’s circumstance is that they go to a school where they’re learning 21st-century skills and have access to mentors. We know mentorship, both informal and formal, is very important to children. Regardless of where you grow up, most kids have mentors at some point in their lives.
We know this is a multifaceted challenge, which is why my budget focuses on funding K-12 education, but also making sure that K-12 education is meeting our current needs and the needs of a 21st-century economy. It’s why we’re focused not only on making sure kids have access to health care, but that their parents do too, through things like Medicaid expansion and that that healthcare includes behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, should people need it. A child whose parent is struggling with mental health challenges or substance abuse is going to have is going to have more difficulties going forward.
The fact remains though that the perception persists that kids in Manchester, simply because of where they happen to live, aren’t getting the same kind of quality education as children living in affluent towns. Is that OK?
Of course it’s not OK and of course it’s really important. That’s why we work statewide in making sure that all of our schools have access to the kind of curriculum development that they need. That’s why we work to make sure that we’ve got the right kind of resources for kids. And we want to make sure that all kids have the opportunity to work hard and learn, grow, and lead.
Critical to our economy is our capacity to unleash the talent and energy of every single person among us. That’s the key to a democracy. If we can do that, then any child, regardless of circumstance, has the chance to learn what they’re good at, to learn the kind of skills that will support them, and then will allow them to raise a family where those kids have an even brighter future than their parents had.
Speaking of the budget, given the constraints with the budget right now, where do you begin with some of these initiatives and ideas?
What I proposed to the Legislature in mid-February was a very frugal budget, but a budget that built on the bipartisan budget that we passed two years ago. One of the things we’re going to need to do moving forward as we make these critical investments is work with the Legislature to reach across the aisle to come together to compromise and find ways to build that next bipartisan budget that won’t do everything we would like to do.
A number of people have spoken out about the importance, for instance, of all-day kindergarten, especially for that child whose single parent might be working more than one job. We know we need to invest in better school buildings in parts of the state. We won’t be able to do all of that in this budget, but the budget I proposed and the compromise budget that we need to do in a bipartisan way would be a budget that builds on our past foundation and gets us the next step forward so that we will be able to do something like full-day kindergarten in the near future.
We are one of a handful of states without a state-funded pre-K program. Is that something that’s even on the radar for you right now or are there just too many constraints?
Full-day kindergarten would be a very important next step in making sure our young people have the kind of education that really prepares them for the 21st-century global economy. We also know that pre-kindergarten programs are really important for our young people. The research is really conclusive and you see Republican and Democratic governors investing in early childhood education.
In New Hampshire, where we don’t have state funding for a lot of early childhood education programs right now, we are working really creatively. Local school districts are working, for instance, with local early preschool providers to make sure we’re all engaged in best practices and helping our young people as early as possible.
But in the future, I think as we build on the foundation of what we’ve done in the last two years, we certainly will have the opportunity to invest more in early childhood education and we know that’s really important for the future of our state and the future of our families.