Portsmouth Herald Editorial: Education funding tests legislators, 5/11/12

posted May 11, 2012, 3:49 AM by Bill Duncan

May 11, 2012 2:00 AM

Once again, passing a constitutional amendment on education funding is proving to be quicksand to lawmakers in the New Hampshire House and Senate. The more they struggle to come up with a fix, the deeper they sink into the quagmire.

The latest act in this decades-long drama is scheduled to play out May 22, when a House and Senate conference committee will attempt to draft amendment language that can garner a 60-percent majority in a House and Senate composed of:

  • Liberal Democrats who believe we need a broad-based tax to adequately fund education.
  • Free Staters, Libertarians and Tea Partyers who think education funding and policy should be handled exclusively at the local level.
  • Democrats who feel the current funding system is working just fine.
  • Conservative Republicans who believe the courts should have no say in how the state funds education.
  • Moderate Republicans and Democrats who believe the Claremont-related lawsuits have put the state in a straightjacket when it comes to education funding and who want to be given the ability to target aid to needy cities and towns.
  • Communities that stand to lose money if the current funding formula is changed.
  • Communities that fear doing nothing will ensure the continuation of a statewide property tax and the inevitable return of "donor" towns.

The conference committee will attempt to craft a compromise for a Legislature that is thoroughly fractured along party lines and with Republican leadership in the House and Senate openly sniping at one another.

In other words, there's absolutely no way the House and Senate are going to muster the votes needed to send this amendment on to the public, where it would need two-thirds of the public to support it.

Lawmakers can't solve the problem because they don't even agree on what the problem is. There is no single solution that can meet all the political agendas outlined above.

We have always shared Gov. John Lynch's view that this is a relatively simple issue and one that shouldn't be hard to fix. To avoid some of the unjust practices and unreasonable contortions we go through to meet the Supreme Court's Claremont-related directives, New Hampshire's voters need to amend the constitution to allow the state to target aid exclusively to needy communities rather than sending money to every community in the state. This would give the state the ability to send more money to those who need it and prevent the egregious practice of taking dollars from one community and giving them to another, even if that other community has sufficient property wealth to adequately fund its own schools.

Gov. Lynch proposed just such an amendment in 2008, Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 34, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support but was killed by the Democratic-led House after it was opposed by the National Education Association-N.H.

After decades of legislative inaction on education funding, lawsuits were filed and the Supreme Court stepped in, and the courts will continue to have the last word on education funding as long as lawmakers continue to focus on their own narrow interests rather than doing what's best for New Hampshire's schoolchildren and taxpayers.

That doesn't look likely to happen anytime soon. We challenge lawmakers to prove us wrong.