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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Education Finance in New Hampshire: Headed to a Rural Crisis?

The New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies published this report this week to attempt to answer the question: have the fundamental goals of the original 1997 Claremont education lawsuit been met? 
In 1991, the school districts of Claremont, Allenstown, Pittsfield, Franklin and Lisbon filed a six-count petition for declaratory and injunctive relief against the state of New Hampshire claiming that the New Hampshire Constitution imposes a duty on the state to support public education and that the state’s system of funding public education fails in that duty in violation of the New Hampshire Constitution. The suit eventually found it's way to the New Hampshire Supreme Court and in December of 1997, they ruled  that the system of financing public education was unconstitutional and that every educable child in New Hampshire has a fundamental right to a state-funded,
constitutionally adequate public education. That led to the so-called donor town tax wherein property rich towns such as Moultonboro, saw huge increases in their property taxes to support the education funding for property poor towns. 

According to the report,  the biggest losers if the state continues with the current system are rural, property-poor communities such as  Colebrook, Hinsdale, Greenville, Lancaster, Berlin, Northumberland, and Newport. They could see a reduction of more than 10% in the aid they receive from New Hampshire between 2017 and 2022. The loss will have to be made up with increases in property tax. By 2022 ,the total amount of state aid  to local communities would drop by 6% percent. Of the 234 incorporated cities and towns in New Hampshire, 96 (41%) would see an increase in state aid per student, 104 (44%) would experience a decline, and 36 (15%) would see no change. Moultonboro is one of the 36 that would see no change a we do not receive any adequacy funding.

Where will this end up? In today's Union Leader,executive director of the NH Center for Policy Studies and co-author of the report was quoted as saying "What we have discovered raises important questions about how many rural communities prepare to transition to what we might call a new education normal 'smaller schools, consolidated districts, new models of learning' and what role the state should play in that transition."
Governor Sununu was also quoted in the article saying "I've always had severe reservations about the Claremont decisions of the 90s. I think the power of education funding needs to solely be in the hands of the Legislature, the true representatives of the people. Right now a lot of it sits in the courts, so allowing that process to return to the Legislature is absolutely vital."

For Moultonboro, that is a scary prospect. As the NH legislature continues to find ways to siphon funding from public education, larger property poor districts such as Claremont, and cities such s Dover who are seeing increased in student populations, will see even less state adequacy funding and even higher local property taxes. Will the solution be to once again dip into the tax base of towns like ours? 
Considering that some in Concord want to rely on Keno to fund full day kindergarten, and find that cutting revenue in a time when necessary services are underfunded, doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling that a fair and equitable solution will be forthcoming. 

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