Nashua Telegraph: Targeted-aid plan misses the mark

posted Mar 12, 2012, 1:21 PM by Bill Duncan

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Targeted-aid plan misses the mark

Only one word seems to be blocking an agreement between the House of Representatives and the Senate that would place a proposed constitutional amendment about education funding before New Hampshire voters in the November election.

Well, we have a word we would like to interject into this debate, too.


But first, some background. Last week, the state Senate voted, 17-7, in favor of placing such a proposal (CACR 12) on the ballot that would permit the state to target education aid to those communities that need it most, rather than providing equal aid to every student in the state.

Under the proposal, the Legislature would have the “full power and authority and the responsibility” to essentially determine how much money the state should contribute to public education and where that money should be directed.

The measure is similar to an amendment approved by the House of Representatives last year, 252-113, with one critical difference: the House version would give lawmakers the “authority and full discretion” with no mention of “responsibility.”

House Republicans – including Speaker William O’Brien – have objected to any language that suggests the state has a responsibility to provide an equal educational opportunity to all students in New Hampshire.

Should the two bodies reconcile their differences, the amendment would go before voters in November. A two-thirds vote would be required for it to become part of the state constitution.

Ever since the state Supreme Court’s landmark Claremont rulings of the 1990s – the state has an obligation to ensure an adequate education for every child and the exclusive reliance on local property taxes to do that was unconstitutional – lawmakers have been trying to pass an amendment to circumvent the courts.

But after dozens have failed to pass muster over the years, our Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor are as close as ever to placing one before voters.

While we share Gov. John Lynch’s sentiments that the Senate’s wording is preferable – the House version would appear to give lawmakers carte blanche to fund or not fund public education as they wish – we remain opposed to any attempt turn the clock back 20 years to a time when the quality of Johnny’s education depended more on where he lived than on his ability to learn.

During the 1980s, in response to a previous school-funding lawsuit, the state agreed to set aside money to be distributed to property-poor communities under the Augenblick formula, named after consultant John Augenblick.

In fact, the seven communities that brought the lawsuit in 1982 agreed to drop it, acknowledging in their motion that the Augenblick formula, if funded, would result in a “more equitable distribution of state aid.”

Need we say more? Left to their own devices, lawmakers failed to live up to their obligation, which in time led to more lawsuits and the Claremont rulings that govern school funding today.

Every year, whether it be from our elected leaders or prominent members of the business community, we hear how critical the state’s education system is to maintaining our all-important New Hampshire advantage.

If that’s the case, why are so many of them willing to gamble with a constitutional amendment that in the wrong hands could prove to be a tremendous disadvantage to the future of our children and the state they call home?
© 2012, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire