Advancing New Hampshire Public Education

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School Funding & Property Taxes 101 Forums

ANHPE readers are well familiar with the School Funding & Property Taxes 101 forums being held to rave reviews throughout the State.  Requests continue to flow in from school districts and communities but also Rotary Clubs and many other civic groups.  The NH School Funding Fairness Project will continue to hold forums and advocate for equity.  If your group would like to hold a forum, click here.

 

 

 

A Changing Role for ANHPE

Regular readers will have noticed fewer posts than usual to anhpe.org.  Though in recent years we have actively opposed privatization – statewide school vouchers (SB 193)  and the Learn Everywhere effort to privatize public high school diplomas – and promoted school funding reform, we have basically seen ourselves as supplementing the good information provided by Reaching Higher NH. (more…)

Zip Codes Can Dramatically Limit Future for NH Students

Garry Rayno’s column today in InDepthNH and other papers makes the key point about the impact of insufficient state funding for public education in New Hampshire and provides important context:

Cora Huter, a senior at Berlin High School, hopes to have a career in nursing, but could be at a disadvantage when she applies to colleges.

Her high school does not have a chemistry teacher this year and Huter and other students are studying chemistry on-line through the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, which provides on-line courses to many students in the state.

The new superintendent of Berlin schools, Julie King, said while the on-line course is fine, the students will not have laboratory experience in chemistry.

King replaced long-time superintendent Corinne Cascadden who stepped down this year.

Huter’s mother, Amy, was the principal of the Brown Elementary School at one time. The school board decided this year to close the last elementary school and move the students into the high/middle school facility built in 1919.

Berlin, like many North Country schools, has declining school enrollment, but has also lost $1 million in state education aid over the past three years after lawmakers decided to reduce stabilization grants by 4 percent a year.

Lawmakers touted the statewide reduction in student enrollment as one of the reasons to decrease state aid, but many property poor communities like Berlin depend on the money for their schools and now face an additional reduction in state aid unless a budget agreement is reached that returns stabilization grants to their original level, which is what lawmakers passed in the $13.3 million two-year state operating budget Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed.

The stark contrast between communities in crisis due to school funding and those with little difficulty raising the money to provide greater opportunities for their students was apparent at a public hearing last week before House and Senate budget writers, seeking to expose the budget veto’s effects on schools.

At the heart of the discussion was the reduction in stabilization aid.

Grant History

School districts were told in 2011, when the education funding formula was last changed, they would be held harmless, meaning they would receive at least as much state aid as they did the year before the formula changed.

The new formula did away with fiscal disparity aid, which provided additional money to property-poor school districts.

The new formula no longer required property-wealthy districts to send their excess statewide property tax collections to the state to help poorer schools.

The change in formula would have resulted in the state distributing $158 million less in state aid to communities meaning some of the poorest school districts would have suffered the greatest loss in state money, so the stabilization grants were created to soften the blow.

At the time the architects of the new formula, GOP Sens. Jim Rausch of Derry and Nancy Stiles of Hampton, said the grants would be sent to the school districts in perpetuity.

But in 2015, lawmakers decided to scale back the stabilization grants by 4 percent a year and remove a cap on how much growing school districts could receive in adequacy grants.

The changes helped districts like Dover, which successfully sued the state over the cap, Bedford and Windham whose enrollments were growing, but hurt the majority of districts who had declining student attendance.

The changes exacerbated a growing problem for property-poor communities like Berlin, Claremont, Pittsfield, Newport and Franklin. The state had already downshifted teacher retirement costs to local districts during the Great Recession and stopped municipal revenue sharing.

The changes exploded the property tax burden in communities that could least afford it and school budgets — the largest local expense — became battle grounds dividing communities.

Educational Opportunities

The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that every student has a constitutional right to an “adequate education” and the state has an obligation to pay for it and later said the funding source had to be “proportional and reasonable,” i.e. not widely varying property tax rates.

Unlike Vermont, the Supreme Court never said education had to be equal across the state, only that it had to be adequate. Lawmakers and school districts have disagreed since the ruling what constitutes an adequate education and how much the state should pay for it.

The question is not partisan because both Democrats and Republicans have failed to abide by the court’s ruling and spent more time trying to pass constitutional amendments to remove court jurisdiction over education than solving the problem that currently is as bad as it was when the Claremont education lawsuit was filed, if not worse.

The disparity between property-wealthy school districts and the opportunities they provide their children and property-poor districts is immense.

Educational Atmosphere

Newport Interim Superintendent Brendan Minnihan told the legislative committee one-third of the staff left at the end of the school year, the biggest reason the low pay compared to what more property-rich districts pay.

School Board Chair Linda Wadensten said the school budget is the lowest it has ever been after closing a school, and cutting programs and student necessities like books.

“You can’t get nickels and dimes from a stone. We’ve raked over what a property-poor community can give,” she said. “We give every cent we can to educate our kids because they are our future.”

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier told of looking his elementary-school-aged grandson in the eyes as he took him to the high school facility built before Grenier’s father was born and wondered if that would be his legacy.

“The time will come when property-poor communities like Berlin will be totally unattractive (for business) investment,” he said. “Is this the legacy we want to leave in New Hampshire, that we take care of kids from rich communities, but if you come from property-poor towns, we throw you in the back of the bus?”

Opportunities

Huter believes her educational opportunities are less than a senior in a more property-wealthy community and wonders what that may mean for her chosen career.

The best and brightest will survive and prosper no matter where they come from, but the average student’s opportunity is more dependent on the zip code where he or she lives than ability under the current system.

But this is not an issue that will be settled in budget negotiations between Democratic leaders and Sununu, although the poorer communities certainly favor the education funding plan and increases in the vetoed budget rather than what the governor proposed the day of the hearing.

Fixing the education funding system will take years not months and may never happen.

Tax System

One person who testified last week, John Morison, Chairman and CEO of Hitchiner Manufacturing in Milford, urged lawmakers to look at overhauling the state’s tax system.

“Listening to the people here today, we have a revenue problem, a revenue distribution problem,” Morison said. “I strongly recommend you look for other forms of revenue to help solve these problems.”

Anyone attending last week’s hearing had to at least acknowledge there is a serious problem with state’s education funding system.

There are kids who will not have even adequate opportunities to excel academically because their communities lack the resources and they will not be able to compete for admission to better colleges and universities.

Unfortunate students are delegated to a cycle of poverty that has sometimes entrapped their families for generations just because of where they live.

The current education funding system is not fair or equitable, certainly not proportional, and many of the state’s children are paying the price.

Politicians tout the high quality of the state’s schools based on national test scores, but that sidesteps the problem.

If the state’s students are its future, the funding system needs to be overhauled now before the disparity grows larger and no one wants to open a business in Berlin, Claremont or Newport or any other chronically property-poor community.

The state’s future truly depends on its students — all of them.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com

Update On Budget; Important Public Hearing This Thursday!

As you know, Governor Sununu vetoed the legislature’s budget, and the State is now operating under a “continuing resolution,” meaning that last year’s budget remains in effect.  If a new budget is not approved before September 30 (and there’s no indication it will be), the continuing resolution is likely to be extended another 90 days, through December.  

This means that school districts that receive stabilization funds as part of their grant from the State may have to begin budgeting for the 2020/21 school year with yet another 4% cut in those funds, above and beyond the 4% cut they already absorbed this year because of the Governor’s veto.  This is a travesty when the legislature’s budget not only eliminated this year’s cut and future cuts, but also rolled back the similar 4% cuts of prior years and added significant amounts of new school aid for struggling districts. 
 

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Budget Hearing 8/29: Speak Up for Students, Property Taxpayers and Local Businesses!

Public Hearing: The Effect of the Budget Impasse on Education
House and Senate Ad Hoc Budget Committee
Thursday, August 29, 10 a.m. (hold a sign in the hall at 9:30)
Legislative Office Building, rooms 210-211

As you know, on July 1 Governor Sununu vetoed the budget that had been passed by the legislature and that contained significant new aid for school districts and municipalities. Since that date, the State has operated under a “continuing resolution”, meaning that for the most part it continues to be funded in accordance with last year’s budget. That means that another 4% cut to stabilization funding for schools has kicked in (it would have been averted under the new budget) and none of the new school or municipal aid contained in the budget has materialized. As students return to school and property taxpayers look ahead to their next quarterly payments, the budget impasse continues, and communities are paying a heavy price. (more…)

A big hurdle remains for Learn Everywhere

The following op-ed by Bill Duncan was published in the Concord Monitor on July 24, 2019.

We are at an interesting juncture in the debate over Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposed Learn Everywhere program. The legislative committee charged with ensuring that proposed agency rules conform with the statutes they implement (that’s the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, JLCAR) has, by a party-line vote of 6-4, lodged a “preliminary objection” to the Learn Everywhere program in a letter listing many problems. Central to the committee’s concerns is the provision that New Hampshire high schools “shall” accept graduation credits created by private groups accredited by the State Board of Education (SBOE).

Normally, when JLCAR sends a proposed rule back with a preliminary objection, the agency makes the required changes and resubmits the rule to JLCAR for a virtually assured final approval. That does not seem likely in this case.

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NH School Funding Fairness Project Newsletter 7/22/19

As Summer Sizzles, Let’s Turn Up the Heat on the Budget!

What’s been happening at the State House

There’s still no news on a budget deal between the Governor and legislative leaders, although both sides have been hard at work trying to gather support for their positions.  On July 11, the Governor wrote a letter to all NH select boards, explaining his rationale for vetoing the budget and asking them to send a representative to an informational meeting with him.  That meeting took place last Friday, behind closed doors.  Apparently, some municipal leaders weren’t shy about letting him know the hardships they face due to uncertainty over, and reductions in, state funding.  

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An eloquent reminder of good things happening in our public schools

Sometimes it feels as if public education is under siege.  Lately the education news has been mostly about reductions in school funding and the Education Commissioner’s latest privatization effort, Learn Everywhere.  But it’s important to stop now and then and celebrate all the good things happening in our public schools.  A recent column in the Concord Monitor, by former teacher-of-the-year Heidi Crumrine, did just that.  

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Governor’s Budget Veto Hurts Students and Property Taxpayers

The following was published in the Concord Monitor as a “My Turn” piece on July 10, 2019.

In the wake of the Governor’s veto of the budget bill, many school districts are reeling.  The bill would have given them significant new funding ($138 million across the state), with much of it directed to property-poor or low income communities whose schools and property taxpayers have been pushed to the brink by repeated cuts in state aid. These communities have less valuable property to tax than their property-wealthy counterparts, so they’ve faced a double burden –   they must tax themselves at much higher rates, but even with such sacrifices they are unable to spend as much per pupil. (more…)

As budget talks continue, keep up the pressure for fair school funding!

NH School Funding Fairness Project Newsletter, July 7, 2019

Now that budget negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, there’s no real news to report. However, as the Governor and legislative leaders try to reach a compromise on state spending, it’s important that they continue to hear from voters concerned about the school funding crisis.  Let them know that, even though it’s summer and they’re meeting outside of public view, you’re still paying attention and you expect them to do what’s right for our schools and communities.  Talking points and contact information are below. (more…)

Governor’s Veto Deals Blow to Schools and Property Taxpayers

As you may have heard, on Friday Governor Sununu vetoed the budget proposed by the Committee of Conference (“CofC”), which had passed the House and Senate on purely party lines.  Unfortunately, this means that everything the CofC put in the budget is back on the table and potentially on the chopping block – including the $138 million in new school aid and $40 M in municipal aid that districts and towns were hoping to see.  The veto leaves school districts in a quandary as they make staffing and other decisions for the school year ahead.    (more…)