An Amendment on Education Funding, The Exchange, NHPR, 2/17/12

posted Feb 19, 2012, 5:11 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 20, 2012, 4:38 AM ]
Listen here

This broadcast of The Exchange is the best single place to learn just about everything about the education funding issue.  Laura Knoy got the right guests and moved them through the issue in an efficient and complete way.

What follows below is not a full transcription but some paraphrase and some quotes to move through the issue quickly.  If there are no quotes, it's a paraphrase.  Emphasis added.

Listen to the original broadcast at the link, above.  When the podcast is available (here), it will be easier to get to the good parts.

The guests are:

  • Senator Molly Kelly - Democrat Senator from Keene and member of the education committee.
  • Senator Jeb Bradley - Senator Majority Leader and Republican Senator from Wolfeboro.
  • Rep. D.J. Bettencourt, House Majority Leader and Republican Representative from Salem.
  • Rep. Christine Hamm - Democrat Representative fromHopkinton.
  • Kevin Landrigan - Political Reporter for the Telegraph of Nashua and for Thelobbynh.com
The Broadcast:

Laura Knoy's intro: Many conservative Republican House members fear it leaves the state open to law suits.  

Kevin Landrigan (2:40): The state tripled state aid to public schools as a result of the Claremont decision.  And it had to get rid of the Augenblick formula, a needs based formula that sent money to communities based on their needs and their property wealth.  A formula the was never fully funded, which was the basis for the Claremont lawsuit.

Sen. Bradley (3:50): The Londonderry decision meant that each student had to be funded at the same dollar amount, which doesn't make sense.

(4:20) "This constitutional amendment will return flexibility to the Legislature to do what elected officials are supposed to do - make tough funding decisions.  Not walk away from the state's responsibility, but to make those tough decisions that should be made."

Sen. Kelly (4:45): "The state has a responsibility to ensure that all of our students have an opportunity for an adequate education.....I would argue that this debate is not necessary, that the amendment is not necessary....We do have, in law, today, a funding formula that does provide for every student to have an adequate education.  Within that law, that formula, there are targeting mechanisms already in place to make sure that those students who need, or those school districts that in need of additional funding receive those.

"What we need to do is move beyond the funding debate and talk about the results of that funding.  Are the results of that funding providing the education that our students and our communities need for today and into the future.

Landrigan (6:28):  They can target above the level of adequacy.  So Berlin does get targeted funds -  $6,000 per pupil vs. $3,400 - but the Lynch administration feels that $10,000 per pupil would be justified and possible if the state were not required to target every student in the state at the $3,400 level.

Bradley (7:50): The $3,400 adequacy figure could be challenged in court at any point.  A more realistic figure is more like $7,000 per student.

(8:28) "So I think when you recognize that there are scarce state resources, that we're trying to protect the competitive advantage that New Hampshire has vis-a-vis our no income not sales tax tax mechanism, that if we don't have this ability to target aid, we're just going to change our state in ways that we can't envision -  but it'll start with those tax decisions.  And I think that would be a detriment.

Kelly (9:49): "I would just argue that one of my concerns with this amendment is that it doesn't set any floor for education funding not does it set any minimum funding amount.  So we can talk about targeting, which I would certainly support...but my concern also on this amendment is that there is absolutely no floor, no minimum funding amount.  So how would school districts, how would towns and cities plan for their future whether it's in tax liability which definitely correlates to the school budget - how would they plan, knowing that they have no idea what funding would be available whatsoever?

Knoy:  What about the wealthy towns?  Do they need state support?

Kelly (11:00): "I believe that every child needs state support.  We should not be basing it on where we are born, where we have moved, where our parents live, on whether the state has a responsibility to make sure that that student has an equal opportunity."

Knoy (13:50): From email: We need the courts.  Left on their own, the Legislature will low ball the schools and low ball our kids.

Bradley (14:00): The Legislature has shown that it has done right by the schools and if we don't do this, we'll get new taxes.  Our advantage will be threatened.

Landrigan (15:30): Agrees that there could be a challenge.

Kelly (16:49): "I don't thing it's an issue of the trust of the Legislature.  I just think in this amendment, we've gone too far.  The amendment language gives full power and authority to the Legislature, so it eliminates totally the court.  And my concern is just the balance in our government, balance of powers.  And if we eliminate the judiciary branch, my concern is that it really sets up a chilling precedent moving forward. 

Bradley (18:35):  The word "responsibility" is important.  The amendment doesn't eliminate the courts.  "It does somewhat curtail the role of the courts.  It drops the standard under which the courts can determine if the Legislature is fulfilling its obligations.  Right now, it's what's called a "strict scrutiny" standard, which means there's a presumption that everything we're doing is unconstitutional if it goes to court.   If you use the word "reasonable," which we do in this amendment, that switches the burden of proof onto a plaintiff to prove the Legislature's unreasonable.

"So it doesn't eliminate the court.  You can still go to court and challenge what's happening, but it...makes sure that elected officials do what they're supposed to do...and the court does what it's supposed to do, which is opine on the constitutionality of those decisions.  It doesn't give too much power to either branch of government.  

"And, I think that, the way this Senate version is written, it also restores local control, which has been largely eliminated through the Claremont decision."

Knoy (20:00):  Following up on Sen. Kelly, is there a precedent for saying no, the courts can't get involved this a particular area?

Bradley (20:28): ....doesn't answer...

Knoy (27:50): Superintendents say this will introduce uncertainly.  What about that.

Bradley (28:00): Except that the formulas have ping ponged around quite a bit, under Claremont....And businesses are with us because this is an uncertainly and uncertainty is a job killer.

Kelley (29:50):  "There's always a threat and a fear about taxation.  I talk with businesses every single day....Their basic concern and what they're looking for in certainty is wanting to be sure and certain that we have an educated and trained workforce.  And that's where the focus is in the businesses that I communicate with."

Knoy (30:55): Sen. Bradley, what the message to your House members?

Bradley (21:00): "Those conservatives are not happy that Claremont was decided the way it was decided 14 years ago.  The stars are aligning.  This is the best opportunity we've ever had to be able to temper that amendment in such a way that allows targeted aid, that returns local control, that drops the standard of scrutiny that the court has - and preserves the existing tax structure.  That's a home run in my book."

Rep. DJ Bettencourt, House Majority Leader (35:00):  Yep...the word "responsibility" is a problem.

Rep. Christine Hamm (35:30): "To keep things as they are is hardly an extreme position.  This has been the law of the land for 200 years."....Our Forefathers said that "we had a common goal and that we had a sense of community - that we educate all of our children and that it's for the benefit of all of us to do so."

Landrigan (37:50): A lot of Republicans believe that Claremont was wrongly decided and they look at a word like "responsibility" and they believe that affirms the Claremont decision.

Bettencourt (40:00): "I think it's completely unreasonable to think that the legislature would turn its back on funding education - to walk away from the table completely and say we're not going to fund public education....What we are hoping to accomplish in an amendment is to recognize that we're living in a different time.  The demographics of New Hampshire have changed and with those changes have come challenges that must be addressed.

"Two of those challenges that I think are critically important are A.) bringing stability to our education funding system...We need to end the race to the court house, which continues to throw education funding plan after plan into chaos and uncertainty....

"Secondly, I think it's critically important that we are able to target education to those communities that need it and allow other communities that can stand on their own two feet to do so....."

Now we'll need to go to a committee of conference.

Hamm (42:00):..."Of all the 50 states, we fund less than 25% of education - that's state aid to education - whereas the average among all the states is 50%"....The state has a history of walking away from education funding.

When Sen. Bradley talks about returning it to local control, "that's a euphemism for returning it to local funding, even more local funding, which bases it on local property taxes than we have already.  And already we have more of that than any place in the nation."

The Legislature has been downshifting retirement funding and many communities are losing education and safety positions so..."to rely on the Legislature to do more, or to do what they have been doing is, I think, a false hope."

Knoy (43:30): What about business' concern about stability?

Hamm (44:00): They are looking for an educated workforce.  Economists say that businesses coming to the state look for an educated workforce.  If the leave that to each town, the education of our workforce is at risk.

Bettencourt (46:00): "Our schools in New Hampshire have continued to do well in good times and in bad.  We're not looking to overhaul a system.  I think our education system here in New Hampshire is quite good.  What we are seeking to do is make a good system even better"

Hamm (47:20): Reduced court oversight will be "the concern of many who appreciate our tripartite government because it certainly reduces the standard of judicial and, really, gives little recourse to aggrieved communities or school districts"