DNHPE 2/20/12 Special Edition: CACR 12 on education funding must be defeated, 2/20/22

posted Feb 20, 2012, 4:57 AM by Bill Duncan



Everyone is tired of the education funding battle.  That must be why the Governor has capitulated on CACR 12, an amendment that would take the courts out of education funding and essentially end state assistance to New Hampshire public schools.  

We face critical questions at this juncture:   Do we have common interests and priorities as a state?  Is the the success of our children and future generations a critical priority that serves our common interests?   Can our children succeed without a vibrant, reliably funded system of public education?  How does a constitutional amendment affect our efforts to provide for the success of future generations?


Here's what the amendment passed by the Senate says:

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 theresponsibility 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.


Yes, the word "responsible" is in the amendment, but so are the words "the legislature shall have full power and authority" (twice) and "reasonable standards" (twice).  As a result, the amendment would leave the courts with no meaningful leverage over education funding in New Hampshire.  

Senator D'Allessandro says, no, the court would not be taken out of it. The Senator Bradley almost comes clean.  He says, "It does somewhat curtail the role of the courts.... If you use the word 'reasonable,' which we do in this amendment, that switches the burden of proof onto a plaintiff to prove the Legislature's unreasonable."    

But here is the assessment of Andru Volinsky, who litigated the Claremont case:


CACR 12 is designed to remove the New Hampshire Supreme Court from playing any role in protecting the rights of children to an education that prepares them to effectively compete in the marketplace.   The proposed Amendment accomplishes this by making clear that the Legislature has complete and unchecked power to define the standards for eduction and to determine how education  will be funded.  Although it assigns responsibility to the legislature for education, the unlimited discretion that is embodied in this Amendment is unlike any other constitutional responsibility in that the legislature's conduct will be completely insulated from any form of accountability.

There is no area of state law from which we would want to exclude the courts, but certainly not education funding.   


This amendment would leave decisions about what must be taught and whether and how much to fund public education in New Hampshire entirely to the whim of elected officials and the vagaries of election cycles. . K-12 public education must carefully and systematically prepare our children for life after high school.  With no rule to guide funding levels or targeting and without oversight as to basic content, there would be no regularity to our system of public education.  Families, employers and children will not be able to count on receiving strong instruction from year to year in core disciplines and school districts will not be able to rely on consistent funding from election to election.  Each Legislature will express it's attitude toward public education and appropriate according to ideology.  The result will be seesaw state funding and, therefore, dramatic drops and rises in local property bills.  Education funding will forever be a matter of divisive local and state-wide debate in New Hampshire. Rather than ending the "education debate,"  CACR 12 will exacerbate it.


CACR 12 can be seen in the context of the rest of the anti-public education legislation in this Legislature.  It's been a full out assault.  Until CACR 12 passed the Senate, the voucher proposal has been the center piece, .  The sponsors are willing to make any compromise and start as small as necessary to get it passed.  But once in place, it will grow relentlessly, sucking funding and able students out of our public schools.  This current Legislature has reduced education funding in other ways as well. In a clear indication of what would happen if CACR 12 were to be adopted, the Legislature has already reduced adequacy by $200 million and the House would have done it again if they could.  The push to opt out of No Child Left Behind isn't over.  That would cost $61 million.  If HB 219 or one of the other bill that eviscerates DOE passed, that would be the next piece of the puzzle.

The debate will continue in the coming weeks, but the outlines were well laid out on Laura Knoy's program, The Exchange, on NHPR last Friday.  She hosted a discussion with Senator Kelly, Senator Bradley, Kevin Landrigan, Rep. Bettencourt and Rep. Hamm.  Here is that broadcast and selected quotes.   

Bill Duncan