CACR 12 reported in Concord Monitor, 2/2/12

posted Feb 2, 2012, 4:08 PM by Bill Duncan
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Senate floats amendment

Wording for school funds revised anew
February 2, 2012

Senate leaders weighed in yesterday on a sought-after constitutional amendment to the state's education funding system by tweaking the proposal to the governor's liking against the wishes of fellow Republicans in the House.

An amendment authored by Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Republican from Milford, changes the House's version to include language favored by Gov. John Lynch that asserts the Legislature's "responsibility" to reduce financial disparity between school districts. The Democratic governor and Republican lawmakers have long desired a constitutional amendment that would undo a Supreme Court ruling and allow lawmakers to target state money to needy school districts.

When Lynch released his proposal last year for the constitutional amendment, it was quickly brought up for a vote by House Speaker Bill O'Brien and killed. Bragdon said he worked with Lynch and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne in crafting the Senate's proposal.

The Democratic governor praised the Senate committee yesterday for "its very positive work in developing this amendment."

"On its face, this amendment appears to accomplish the goals of affirming the state's responsibility for education and providing the flexibility we need to effectively target aid to the communities and the children who need it the most," Lynch said.

O'Brien has seen the Senate's language but didn't say what he thinks of it, Bragdon said. O'Brien's only charge was that the amendment have bipartisan support and so far Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, is supportive of the wording, he said. "The speaker had basically told us unless you have some bipartisan amendment, it probably doesn't have much of a chance," Bragdon said.

"He's already indicated the Republicans (in the House) have gone as far as they can go."

The Senate Internal Affairs Committee voted 4-1 in favor of Bragdon's amendment, with the lone Democrat, Concord Sen. Sylvia Larsen, opposed. Larsen could not be reached for comment last night.

Bragdon said the word "responsibility" was important to Lynch, and Lynch's backing is important in obtaining broad support for the amendment. A constitutional amendment requires the support of three-fifths of the House and Senate before being placed on the ballot, where voters must approve it by a two-thirds majority.

"In reality the governor has a 70 percent approval rating and if the governor's not for it, it's probably not going to get passed," Bragdon said.

Greg Moore, O'Brien's policy director, said the House's fragile support for an amendment could be disrupted by the Senate changes.

Rep. J.R. Hoell, a Dunbarton Republican on the education committee, said his concern is that asserting the Legislature's responsibility in funding education could lead over time to a loss of local control.

"If you add 'responsibility' certainly you're going to lose Republican votes. Can you pick up Democratic votes?" Moore said.

Lamontagne, a well-known conservative and former chairman of the state Board of Education, released a statement in support of the Senate amendment. He said the proposal "contains a very reasonable approach in returning local control over education funding while allowing the Legislature to direct targeted aid to disadvantaged school districts."

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)

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