"Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.
Alexander Hamilton

Friday, October 28, 2016

Franklin, Northfield ask towns to rally for a new education funding formula

Time to circle the wagons? With the success of the Dover lawsuit in Sullivan County this past September where the Superior Court ruled that the cap on the amount of money the state sends to local school districts is unconstitutional, other municipalities are threatening more lawsuits. The state sends funds annually to local school districts to satisfy a constitutional mandate to provide an adequate education. The amount it sends is calculated by a formula determined by the legislature.Starting in 2009, the legislature placed a cap on top of that formula which said the amount an individual school district received could only increase by a certain amount each year. As a result, school districts like Dover that were rapidly growing, received less money than they would have without that cap. From 2012-2016, the spending cap has kept more than $77 million  from going to school districts across the state.
(An explanation of the rather complicated Adequate Education Aid can be found here on the NH Dept. of Education website.)
Here is why this is important: In the article below, there are threats of more litigation so that the state provide more help to property poor towns. Where does the state get that money? More than likely from property rich towns. We must be vigilant to keep our tax dollars meant to support our public schools,going to our public schools. 

So when politicians talk of " education choice" they are really saying that your school tax dollars will help pay for that choice in other parts of the state. 

Concord has not been able to solve this "adequacy" problem and the band aids over the past few years have not worked and have made public education funding even more complex and inequitable.  Now, with some school districts growing while many others are shrinking, it exacerbates the problem. The Dover lawsuit cost $11million and that may just be the tip of the iceberg. 

Monitor staff
Friday, October 28, 2016
The city of Franklin and the town of Northfield are rallying municipalities together to demand the state do more to help property-poor towns pay for schools.
“I think that children and taxpayers should be treated fairly,” Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield said Wednesday. “And I think that the current state law, if fully implemented, there’s no way that that’s constitutional.”
Franklin and Northfield officials sent a letter to those 45 towns in New Hampshire that will eventually lose at least $1 million in state aid by the time a stabilization program is fully phased out, per a law passed in 2015.
Merrifield and Northfield select board Chairman Wayne Crowley, who co-signed the letter, are hoping for a legislative solution, but said another education funding lawsuit is possible. They emphasized their hope that lawmakers would work with them for a solution.
“Litigation is always the last resort. It’s better to work with the two parties,” Crowley said. “And I can’t speak for Northfield – that would have to go to town meeting. But nothing’s off the table. There’s the potential for that.”
The letter asks for representatives from any town that stands to lose education funding to gather at 6 p.m. on Nov. 14 at the Franklin Opera House to “explore legislative and/or legal solutions needed to protect the fiscal integrity of our schools and communities.”
In New Hampshire – where school funding comes mostly from local property taxes – plans to
redistribute money from property-rich towns to poorer ones have rarely, if ever, found favor with the Legislature. The landmark state Supreme Court Claremont case, which established that the state was responsible for providing an “adequate” education to all children, was litigated twice. And just last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that a cap the Legislature had placed on adequacy payments was unconstitutional.
For Merrifield and Crowley, sunsetting the stabilization program means the state is again reneging on its obligation to provide that adequate education.
Stabilization grants were put in place in 2012 after the state rewrote its adequacy formula, which determines how much state aid schools receive per student. The new formula lowered reimbursements for special education students and removed extra money that went to school districts with the lowest tax base per student.
The stabilization grants were supposed to buoy the towns that were set to receive less after the change in the formula – mostly property-poor, lower-income towns. But a new law, which went into effect this fiscal year, eliminates 4 percent of that aid each year – fully eliminating the program in 25 years.
In Franklin, stabilization aid represents about half of the roughly $8 million the town receives for schools from the state each year. This year, it got $166,000 less than last year in stabilization alone – never mind a loss in adequacy payments that followed a drop in enrollment.
“I believe that if current state law does not change, and we lose half of our state aid, we will not be able to run a school,” Merrifield said.
As a tax-capped municipality, Franklin has a relatively average tax rate. But with nearly a quarter of its residents living below the poverty line, many fall behind on their property taxes. The city liened 80 properties in 2016 alone. And this school year, Franklin schools opened with 12 fewer employees, including 10 teachers, Merrifield said.
But Merrifield – and Crowley – also think the overall system for calculating adequacy needs to change. Merrifield noted, for example, that adequacy is often calculated after a district’s budget cycle is concluded. And whatever the payment, it’s never enough.
“I’m virtually certain that there is no community in New Hampshire that considers their adequacy payment adequate,” he said.
Andru Volinksy, the lawyer who represented the Claremont petitioners, agrees that the elimination of stabilization funding is a problem – and thinks the solution would be a total rehaul of how the state defines and funds an “adequate” education.
“The fact that there’s a need for stabilization funds is really an indicator that the adequacy funding structure is not adequate,” he said.
The state’s lowered contributions to special education also disproportionately affect lower-income communities, Volinksy said, and the adequacy formula itself doesn’t come close to the cost of educating a child.
“A funding formula that tops out adequacy at $3,450 when the average spending (per student) is $14,000 is on its face suspect,” he said.
He cautioned, though, that “from a legal perspective,” it could be “difficult to use Franklin as a poster child for failed state education funding strategies,” he said, because the city is tax-capped, and because a majority of its taxes go to the city, and not its schools – the inverse of what is typical in New Hampshire.
But he said that towns still have “really good arguments” to make for a new formula.
“I wish everyone undertaking this action good luck,” said Volinsky, who is now running for Executive Council. “This is not an easy undertaking.”
(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)


Interested voter said...

As a candidate for the House, what is your position on (1) donor towns helping less affluent towns; (2) is the amount of money allotted by the State satisfactory to meet the constitutional requirement for an "adequate education" and (3) if not, are you in favor of (a) a statewide property tax, (b) an income tax, or (c) a sales tax to provide enough revenue to satisfy the constitutional mandate if the State Supreme Court affirms a Superior Court decision finding inadequate funding of schools (Clarmont type case)?

Moultonboro Blogger said...

I oppose any broad based sales or income tax.

Lets not forget that there already is a state property tax. Look at your tax bill. What happened in the past with donor towns was that state school tax rate went up dramatically in property rich towns and instead of it being returned to Moultonboro, the "excess" was distributed by NH to places like Claremont.
Less affluent municipalities are struggling with high property tax rates and insufficient funding from the state. I do not believe that overtaxing property rich towns is the way to address it.
The issue has wrongly become one where the cost of an adequate education is the same for every student in every district. Cost per pupil can vary widely for example, solely due to the number of students. Is it correct to compare a school district with less than a 1,000 students with the city of Manchester? We need to find a mechanism that addresses the true need of these districts that are underfunded and distribute aid according to that need without asking property rich towns to pay for it.

Interested Voter said...

I'm not really sure how redistributing money from the State Property tax from richer districts to poorer districts does not increase tax rates for town like Moultonborough while hurting poorer residents of our town who are subjected to the regressive property tax increases by redistributing the richer town's money to poorer towns

Moultonboro Blogger said...

I never said redistribution from richer to poorer or anything like that. I don't know where you got that from. I said quite the opposite. The funding formula we are currently bound to does not address the inequities in distribution. I was very clear that I do not support a donor town tax or any similar plan.