Local superintendents worry about impact of proposed education funding amendment, Nashua Telegraph, 6/2/12

posted Jun 3, 2012, 9:00 AM by Bill Duncan
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DNHPE Comment: The notion that state aid to education will go down dramatically if the amendment were to pass is widely accepted, based on historical experience, as the superintendents discuss here.

By ERIN PLACE

Staff Writer

A proposed constitutional amendment giving the Legislature the final say on education funding has some local school officials concerned about it leading to a drop in state support.

“In my view, if this were adopted, over time it would lead to considerably less funding from the state for Nashua, resulting in either reductions in education, higher local property taxes or both at the same time,” Nashua School District Superintendent Mark Conrad said. “I think history really documents that.”

Conrad was referring to the wording of a proposed amendment to the constitution agreed upon by state legislative leaders and Gov. John Lynch on Thursday. The House of Representatives and Senate are scheduled to vote on the measure next week, and both need a 60 percent majority to pass the amendment.

If approved, it would be on the ballot in November.

The amendment would give the Legislature “full power and authority to make reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education.”

Supporters say the proposed measure would target more aid to less wealthy districts across the state and ensure that New Hampshire would continue its commitment to the public school system.

The changes would include no longer requiring the state to send all education aid out on a per-student basis, promoting alternatives to public schools and putting the burden of proof on whoever sues the state regarding the unconstitutionality of the education aid formula.

Conrad said the Nashua Board of Education hasn’t debated the proposal’s merits or taken a position on it, but he said history shows that when left to its own devices, the Legislature has shown a propensity for reducing education aid to the city when times are tough.

Prior to the 1997 Claremont lawsuit, the Nashua School District received less than $500,000 in adequate education funding, and in some years, it received no funding from the state, Conrad said.

This year, the School District received a little less than $36 million in adequate education funding from the state, he said.

When the state moved away from funding the requirements established by the Claremont decision, Conrad said his district saw grant money dwindle.

In 2005, Nashua received a little more than $26 million from the adequate education grant, he said. By 2007, that funding had dropped to $23.9 million.

Six years ago, the Supreme Court stepped in after the Londonderry School District filed a lawsuit. The court ruled in September 2006 that the state’s funding formula was unconstitutional.

“When they reworked the formula to meet the constitutional requirements, our adequate education grant increased from $23.9 million in 2007 to $31.3 million in 2008,” Conrad said. “I believe that history shows that anytime the state moves away from meeting the constitutional requirement for the cost of adequate education, our funding declines. It happened prior to the initial lawsuit, it happened over time until the 2006 Supreme Court intervention.”

Conrad doesn’t think Nashua should receive significant increases in state funding, but believes that districts need to have stability over time. Otherwise, the funding roller coaster is destructive and wreaks havoc on students and staff members, as positions and programs are added and cut with such drastic changes, he said.

Hudson Superintendent Randy Bell agreed.

“I’m very concerned,” he said. “I frankly believe that the inevitable result of this will be the Legislature will reduce funding to public education whenever there’s a difficult moment. I’m certain that they will target more funds to poorer communities.

“Anybody that doesn’t understand that it will mean less money overall to schools when there’s any fiscal difficulty in the state and having those funds passed on to the property tax hasn’t paid a whole lot of attention to the fiscal history of the state.”

This year, Hudson received a little more than $9 million in funding from the adequate education grant.

As for the amendment’s supporters citing the need to target low-wealth districts for increased funding, Conrad and Bell believe there is no reason why the Legislature can’t do that now. They agreed there is nothing in the law to prevent politicians from doing so after the adequate education requirements are met.

“The argument really becomes do we provide the cost of an adequate education or do we target aid to those communities that we think are most in need?” Conrad said. “Whenever that question has been asked as an option in the past, Nashua always loses funding from the state.”

If the amendment is passed by the Legislature, it would require two-thirds support from voters in November.

“If two-thirds of the people of New Hampshire want it to be that way, that’s what democracy is about,” Bell said.

The state’s largest teachers union has expressed concern about the proposal.

“We do not believe that CACR12 serves the best interests of the children of New Hampshire,,” said Rhonda Wesolowski, NEA-N.H. president. “Schoolchildren lose when politicians play favorites, and that is exactly what this amendment allows.”

Erin Place can be reached at 594-6589 or eplace@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Place on Twitter (@Telegraph_ErinP).
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