GOP leader calls for compromise, Concord Monitor, 3/15/12

posted Mar 15, 2012, 5:47 AM by Bill Duncan

School funding has chambers at odds
By Matthew Spolar / Monitor staff
March 15, 2012

After the House emphatically disagreed yesterday with the Senate's version of a constitutional amendment on education funding, leaders from both chambers will get together in hopes of hammering out a compromise.

Only 54 House members voted to concur with the Senate's version of the amendment, compared with 287 who were opposed to the motion. The House then voted overwhelmingly to create a committee of conference between the two houses.

Democratic Gov. John Lynch 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. The main sticking point for many House Republicans has been their opposition to asserting the Legislature's "responsibility" in funding education. Lynch says he will not sign a bill that does not include the word.

The Senate version won Lynch's support with this language: ". . . the legislature shall have full power and authority and responsibility to define reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education, to establish reasonable standards of accountability, and to mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity."

"The Governor believes we need a constitutional amendment that affirms the state's responsibility for education and gives us the flexibility we need to effectively target aid to the communities and children that need it the most," Colin Manning, Lynch's spokesman, said in a statement yesterday.

Rep. Paul Mirski, an Enfield Republican, rose to "vigorously oppose" the amendment supported by Lynch and the Republican-controlled Senate. Mirski said the proposal "gets us absolutely nowhere" by potentially allowing the courts to continue to determine whether the Legislature has met its responsibility on education.

"It is exactly the opposite of what we were attempting to do with our House CACR 12," Mirski said.

Tying the Legislature to establishing "reasonable standards of accountability" means binding it to a "totally subjective" term that would be subject to interpretation and "leave the courts total latitude to set education policy," he said.

"Whether the Legislature has done its duty or fulfilled its responsibility is ultimately up to the New Hampshire Supreme Court," Mirski said. "This is not what we're seeking in this Legislature."

Lynch's support for a constitutional amendment has put him at odds with some in his party who believe it will allow the Legislature to distribute less or uneven funding to school districts. Democratic Rep. Gary Richardson of Hopkinton also urged the House not to concur with the Senate's amendment.

"CACR 12 has some, in my opinion, significant problems with it, not the least of which I believe is it's highly unlikely to receive a two-thirds approval of the voters in its current form," Richardson said.

As the amendment was moved to a committee of conference, House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, a Salem Republican, told his colleagues the spirit of compromise will be needed during the next phase of the process. Bettencourt said "some of the rhetoric I've heard in the previous debate I fear, does not lend itself to a successful negotiation."

"I want to warn everybody ahead of time . . . that we are not going to accomplish something on education funding if we're not willing to keep an open mind and compromise on the issues," Bettencourt said. "To the members of my party, we need to appreciate the fact that we are not the only people who have voices in this process. And that if we are going to accomplish something on this issue we have to work with the Senate.

"The Senate has values and things that are important to them, as we have values that are important to us," Bettencourt continued. "We're going to need to be able to talk with them in a civilized and open-minded manner. . . . If you're expecting the perfect amendment as you define it in your own mind, you're very, very likely to be disappointed."

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or

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