Portsmouth Herald Editorial: Ed funding amendment deserves support, 6/3/12

posted Jun 3, 2012, 9:15 AM by Bill Duncan


June 03, 2012 2:00 AM

The New Hampshire House speaker, Senate president, governor and our own local state Sen. Nancy Stiles all deserve praise for crafting a reasonable amendment to the state's constitution regarding education funding.

With so many factions warring over this issue, simply agreeing to language to bring to the full House and Senate was no easy feat. And winning the votes of three-fifths of lawmakers in both Houses won't be easy either.

But that's OK. Changing the state Constitution is not supposed to be easy, and unlike many of the fringe issues that have taken up lawmakers' time this past year, the question of how we fund our public schools is worthy of intense deliberation. If the Legislature can pass an amendment, it will be a major achievement.

With the information available to us at this time, we're inclined to support the amendment because it empowers the state to direct aid to needy communities rather than sending the first and last dollar of adequacy funding to cities and towns whether they need it or not.

In our view, the ability to target aid was really the only problem that needed solving.

Some on the left might have wanted to use the school funding issue to introduce a sales or income tax, while some on the right thought an amendment would be a chance to get the courts out of the education issue once and for all. But the legislative leaders and governor resisted those distractions and have put forward a relatively straightforward proposal.

"It's good language, it's clear language and it's understandable language," Sen. Stiles said Thursday. "It puts the responsibility on the state to make sure that there is public education for our children."

For the record, here's the exact wording of the proposed amendment:

"In fulfillment of the provisions with respect to education set forth in Part II, Article 83, the legislature shall have the responsibility to maintain a system of public elementary and secondary education and to mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity. In furtherance thereof, the Legislature shall have the full power and authority to make reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education and standards of accountability and to determine the amount of, and the methods of raising and distributing, state funding for public education."

The lawmakers have also read seven key points into the record so future legislatures and courts will know their exact intention. Those points include explicit statements of the state's responsibility to provide public education and an ongoing role for the courts should the state fail to meet that responsibility.

On the taxation side of the question, Portsmouth's Pat Remick, leader of the Coalition Communities who forgets more about this issue in a day than most of us will ever know, called the language "the best we're going to get."

"I think that this provides the best opportunity toward getting to a point where they can get rid of the statewide property tax," she said.

Remick acknowledges the change would not ban donor towns, which saw taxpayers in many Seacoast towns, including Portsmouth, Newington, Rye and New Castle, sending local dollars to the state, which then redistributed them to "receiver towns" which, in some instances, were more than capable of funding an adequate education themselves.

As in most true compromises, all groups have something to cheer and something to complain about with this amendment. We look forward to a vigorous debate of the issue. And remember, if the House and Senate are able to pass this amendment, then two-thirds of voters will need to support it in November, and that is going to be an even tougher battle. The statewide teachers union has already come out against it.