The CACR 12 debate as of 5/18/12: it's all up in the air

posted Apr 19, 2012, 6:52 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 18, 2012, 8:38 AM ]
An5/18/12 Update: The language House leadership was developing while DJ Bettencourt was giving the quotes below started leaking at the end of April and was reported in the Union Leader on Saturday 4/28.  There has been no reaction from the Governor.  Senate President Bragdon has said that he would go along with anything the Governor and the House agreed upon.

Virtually all Democrats oppose any amendment, including one with this language.  Republican house leadership is pressing its members hard to agree to it.  Here is the language: 

[Art.] 5-c [Public Education.] 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 the furtherance thereof, the Legislature shall have the full power and authority to make wholesome and reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education and standards of accountability as it may judge for the benefit and welfare of this state; and the full power and authority to make determinations as to the amount of, and the methods of raising and distributing, state funding for public education as it may judge for the benefit and welfare of this state.

Rep. Phil Munk favors the amendment but frames the debate in a way useful to both sides in a Fosters opinion piece.

This has occasioned a new round of press opinionating.  The Nashua Telegraph has reaffirmed it's position against the amendment, saying

"Does anyone actually believe that such an amendment wouldn’t lead to less overall state spending and more political games playing? Can that possibly be in the interest of New Hampshire’s schoolchildren?"

The word "wholesome" in the new language has become a focus of puzzlement and debate.  Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said,  

“Whatever constitutional amendment comes out should be short.  I don't think it should have a word like wholesome, which no one can give me a definition of.” 

And the Portsmouth Herald, while maintaining its pro-amendment position, predicts no agreement among the many factions, which it delineates pretty accurately here.

There are other recent statements too, including a fourth Union Leader editorial strongly in favor and a second Foster's, all based on the expectation that a constitutional amendment will put the issue to bed.

The editorial board meeting with Speaker O'Brien, Majority Leader Bettencourt and Assistant Majority Leader Tucker is part of the all out House leadership lobbying effort for this version of the amendment.  Republican caucus members report the strongest arm twisting they have ever seen (though many of them are freshmen).  However, the "liberty" vote isn't buying it and it is not clear what the result will be in this ideological group.



Background - the debate before the new language was circulated

Last week, in a speech to the Portsmouth Rotary Club, the Governor said, referring to members of the New Hampshire House, "This notion that the state has no responsibility for public education is quite absurd," The Patch has posted video, here, (editing out the "absurd" quote for some reason). Now the House Majority Leader, Rep. D.J. Bettencourt, has taken umbridge and lectured the Governor on civility, here. At the end where he says,

"...I do not see a viable path toward successfully achieving an amendment with components of your preferred language if you are unable to make an effort to deliver some level of House Democrat support. I would estimate that success requires two to three dozen House Democrat votes. Without this contribution, I do not believe we will be able to gather the 239 House votes needed to pass the amendment."

"Components of your preferred language?"  Are the Speaker and the Majority Leader demanding that the Governor get out and lobby for an amendment that might eventually come out of the Committee of Conference with "components" of his preferred language?

And if two or three dozen Democrats is the required number, the question is already settled, as Kevin Landrigan predicted a month ago.

But the Majority Leader is still adding to the list of issues to be addressed in the amendment, as told the Union Leader here:

[About the issue of responsibility] 'What is a concern is its placement, and the effect its placement will have on the overall goal we are trying to achieve,' he said, adding, 'There are other important aspects of the amendment that require clarification, such as its effect on charter schools, school choice, and homeschooling.' ”
The language about charter schools, school choice and homeschooling is new.  Is he now going to address the issue of state funding for religious schools in the amendment, so that the voucher bill the Governor will probably veto won't be challenged in court?  Maybe he can eliminate all state accountability for charter and home schools while he's at it.  

Then in his 4/25/12 piece in Foster's, he added this:

"We also need to ensure that the amendment will provide the proper balance between the State and local school districts. Excluding the far left, most agree that the Claremont decisions swung the pendulum too far toward inflexible State control. What we seek to accomplish is an amendment that will allow for the proper balance."

He may be saying here that he wants to include elements of CACR 8, which increases local control of schools, but failed twice in the House explicitly relieves the State of any education funding responsibility.

He's been talking about placement of the word "responsibility" for a month now, but here is the Senate version of the amendment:

"In fulfillment of the provisions with respect to education set forth in Part II, Article 83, the legislature shall have full power and authority and the 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. Further, the legislature shall have full power and authority to determine the amount of, and the method of raising and distributing, state funding for public education."

Where would he move it - to the Fiscal Note?

The issues seem to be multiplying rather than resolving.

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