Bradley says ed funding amendment 'very close': Senate majority leader optimistic, Concord Monitor, 5/23/12

posted May 23, 2012, 1:01 PM by Bill Duncan
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By Matthew Spolar / Monitor staff
May 23, 2012
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Republican leaders from the House and Senate hoping to hammer out a compromise over a long-sought state constitutional amendment on education funding ended their first committee of conference within a half-hour yesterday after laying out some of their goals and concerns.

"We're very close," said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro.

Gov. John Lynch and Republican lawmakers have long desired a constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to target state money to needy school districts and undo a Supreme Court ruling requiring the state to fund an adequate public education for all children in the state. Many Democrats have been cool to the idea out of fear that the amendment would allow lawmakers to reduce funding for education, or not fund it at all.

The House's constitutional amendment, passed last year, did not assert the Legislature's "responsibility" in education funding, a word Lynch says must be included in order to have his support. The Senate version included the word, earning Lynch's endorsement. Lynch does not have veto power over a constitutional amendment - which must pass both chambers by a three-fifths majority - but his support is seen as crucial to persuade two-thirds of voters to support the amendment on the ballot in November.

The House members of the committee distributed potential compromise language yesterday that includes the word "responsibility," but also alters the verbiage where the Senate had said the Legislature would set "reasonable standards of accountability" in public education.

The House proposal says the Legislature "shall have the full power and authority to make wholesome and reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education and standards of accountability as it may judge for the benefit and welfare of this state; and the full power and authority to make determinations as to the amount of, and the methods of raising and distributing, state funding for public education as it may judge for the benefit and welfare of this state."

After their brief statements yesterday, the members of the committee of conference agreed to reconvene at 1 p.m. tomorrow to see if they have made progress toward a compromise.

"The Senate language and the proposed House language are actually quite similar," Bradley said. "It's written slightly differently, but I think absolutely the goal is the same."

Rep. Lynne Ober, the Hudson Republican leading the House negotiation team, said yesterday's meeting was "to see if we can have some kind of common goals."

"We want to target aid in some way," Ober said.

Not all think giving the Legislature that authority is a good idea. Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, attended yesterday's meeting in opposition to the amendment, which he said would "diminish a child's right to public education."

"No one on this committee of conference represents the other side of the question," Joyce said. "By my observation of 40 years of history, when the Legislature tried to exert unfettered control they have reduced state aid to children and to taxpayers."

Joyce said he's hopeful the House won't be able to muster a 60 percent majority to pass whatever language on which the committee of conference agrees. But if an amendment goes to voters in the fall, he and others will make a public case against passing it.

"If that happens and they concur, we'll be prepared to take this debate to every community in the state," Joyce said.

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