Charter School Provides Backdrop for Jon Huntsman Campaign Visit in NH

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January 4, 2012; Source: Bloomberg Businessweek (Associated Press) | Former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is a candidate for the Republican nomination to run against Barack Obama this year. He received less than 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses, which was no surprise to pundits, nor to Huntsman himself, who has long counted on his appeal to the Granite State’s more moderate Republican (and crossover Democratic) voters to bring him to success.

One way is to show up at a charter school, which moderate Republicans and many Democrats like conceptually, because charters are somewhat free to make their own curriculum and programs within public school systems, reflecting a marriage of private sector entrepreneurial approaches with the public sector. Huntsman did just that as part of a Utah company’s assistance to a Pembroke, New Hampshire charter school. The company, iSchool Campus, sold 200 iPads (plus some computers and a new wireless network) at a discount to the Strong Foundations Charter School.

Huntsman plus iSchool Campus founder Tom Pitcher showed up at the nonprofit-managed charter school to watch kids writing on their iPads about their Christmas gifts. Apparently, Pitcher interrupted a fifth-grade class to ask the pupils to search the Internet to learn about Huntsman rather than finish writing their Christmas essays. A donor of $2,000 to Huntsman’s campaign, Pitcher told Strong Foundations parents and students that Huntsman was a “born leader,” and expressed the hope that the Strong Foundation’s “‘iPad Moms’ could become this election cycle’s ‘soccer moms.’”

One doubts that the 501(c)(3) behind Strong Foundations was taking a position for or against Huntsman, which would risk its federal nonprofit status. Nonetheless, the fact that Pitcher and Huntsman got to wander the halls extolling the partial iPad giveaway and promoting themselves suggests that the charter school administrators were not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, either.—Rick Cohen