Capital Comments: The Importance of Afterschool Programs

By State Senator Bob Odell

Governor Lynch provided the Newport Out-of-School Time (NOST) organization with a proclamation celebrating Lights on Afterschool Day on Thursday, October 22.  The proclamation gives important recognition to the value of quality afterschool programs and activities for children, their families and the entire community.

NOST provides afterschool activities for students in kindergarten through the eighth grade.  For single parent families or families where both parents are working, the hours after school often find children unsupervised and vulnerable to poor use of their time.  NOST gives students organized and supervised educational and recreational activities to make good use of the hours after classes are out.

There are 234,000 school age children in New Hampshire and about a quarter of them are unsupervised after school.  Research indicates that supervised, quality after school programs help students meet their academic, personal, social and emotional needs.

At the recent celebration of Lights on Afterschool Day, students from different grade levels from all three Newport schools had demonstrations and examples of the work they are doing.  The most intriguing for me was a robotics group for fifth through eighth graders.

Led by Lars LaVenture, a June graduate of Newport Middle High School, students build and program robots.  The robot displayed was sensitive to light and could follow a map similar tot he lines marking a roadway.  All of the robot’s directions had been carefully programmed by students.

At my age and with my lack of technical skills, it is fascinating to see what a youngster can do.  The students envision a robot, build and program it and then explain what is going on.  It is no small achievement.  Asked how old a child has to be to do the programming, Lars suggested a student as young as five years old could probably do it.

Activities such as the robotics program are having a very positive impact on NOST students.  NOST, currently with 75 students enrolled, is a cooperative project between the Newport School District, Cinnamon Street Early Education &  Childcare Center and the Newport Enrichment Team.  NOST is not funded by taxpayers.  Grants and fees paid by parents provide the operating revenue although 56 percent of students receive scholarship assistance.

What could be better than helping students use their after school time productively.

*   *   *

This fall seems to be the season for self examination by legislators of our state’s revenue and spending patterns.  There has been a two day revenue seminar and a separate forum on spending.  On Monday, November 2, there will be a joint public hearing of the House and Senate Finance and Ways and Means Committees for an “update on international, national, regional and state economies.”  That sounds like some pretty big agenda to cover in a couple of hours.

At the first sessions of the revenue seminar, it was clear that New Hampshire and national experts were on all sides of every tax policy option.  But there were some basic facts about our state tax structure that were generally accepted.

New Hampshire is unusual in that we are one of only nine states with no general income tax and one of five with no general sales tax.  We have one of the lowest state/local combined tax burdens in the country.  We are the fifth lowest … that means forty-five states have higher state and local taxes on a per capita basis.

Given the high taxes of other states in the region, Scott Hodge, president of the highly respected 70 year old Tax Foundation, said “when it comes to individual income taxes and sales taxes New Hampshire is to the Northeast what Switzerland is to Europe, a refuge from oppressively high tax rates.”

Several speakers addressed our high business taxes with warnings about the potential negative impact of these taxes as we compete in the world economy.  Mr. Hodge cited a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study which found that “corporate taxes are the most harmful tax for long-term economic growth.”

Recently, the president of a manufacturing company in Grafton County with nearly 300 employees testified that his company purchased a California company a couple of years ago.  And while many Granite Staters’ first thought is that taxes on the West Coast would be much higher than in New Hampshire, the businessman found that California business taxes were not nearly so bad in comparison to our state’s corporate taxes.

The other side of scale in public finance is spending.  Jonathon Williams of the American Legislative Exchange Council, suggested “States cannot tax their way into prosperity … The best solution to budget woes is to control state spending and promote policies that foster economic growth and job creation.”

Legislative work on the next biennial budget will not officially get underway until February, 2011.  But already policy makers and advisers are circling and looking for ways to insert their fiscal philosophy into the process.

That is why in one morning you could hear experts tell us to do nothing, to cut business taxes, to impose an income tax, to create a sales tax, all which came along with the rationale to support each position.  Overall, however, the New Hampshire record over the past few years of income and population growth has made us the economic leader in the region.  That is not to ignore the challenges we face now and will face in the years ahead.

NH State Senator Bob Odell (District 8) is chairman of Ways and Means, a member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development Committee, and the Finance Committee. Senate District 8 comprises: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.

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