Inspired by the School Funding 101 forums, the communities making up the Conval School District (Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple) have organized in a way that may be an inspiration to many other New Hampshire communities.
Spearheaded by Peterborough selectboard member Karen Hatcher, the leadership of the 9 communities have composed an impressively well researched and written letter to their elected officials and candidates. Signed by all of the ConVal school board members and authorized representatives of the nine Town Select Boards, the letter has been sent to all of their current elected officials and the candidates running for office this November in our local districts and at the state level.
The letter persuasively makes the case that we must raise the issue of funding our public schools to a top priority this election season and in the subsequent legislative session. The ConVal letter is posted here, below, for easy copy and paste. If you would rather work from a Word template, you can download this one that Karen has created. Finally, Karen has provided a one page call for a statewide movement for education funding fairness and an oped that will run soon in the Monadnock Ledger and could serve as a starting point for others concerned about school funding fairness.
New Hampshire’s elected officials need to hear from you! Here’s the ConVal letter:
NEW HAMPSHIRE PUBLIC SCHOOLS SCHOOL ADMINISTRATIVE UNIT #1
CONTOOCOOK VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT OFFICE OF THE SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS 106 Hancock Road, Peterborough, NH, 03458-1197
September 20, 2018
To: Governor Sununu, NH State Senators, NH State Representatives, and all candidates running for public office in the November 2018 election.
We the members of the ConVal School Board and all Select Board members of the nine towns that make up the ConVal school district, respectfully request that you make “public education funding fairness” a front-burner issue in the upcoming election season.
There are many compelling reasons to support public education.
92% of all NH children are educated in our public schools. An adequate education, as defined by ED 306, is fundamental and foundational to the success of individuals and society. Article 83 of the NH Constitution asserts that “knowledge and learning are essential to the preservation of a free government”. As community leaders, working adults and business owners, we understand the essential role of public education in our ability to compete in the global economy, where an educated workforce is critical to our local and state economic vitality and future prosperity. Strong, supported, well-funded, public school systems can attract businesses, skilled workers, and families who choose to move to New Hampshire from other areas of the country. Additionally, well-funded and equitable public school settings consistently create communities that are vibrant and contribute to the greater economy of our towns, state and country.
What is the problem with NH’s education funding system?
New Hampshire is in an education funding crisis, with the state having cut support to local school districts on average 50% during the last five years, despite increased administrative and legal requirements from the state and federal government. Article 83, 28-a expressly states that “the state shall not mandate or assign any new, expanded, or modified programs or responsibilities… in such a way as to necessitate additional local expenditures… unless such programs or responsibilities are fully funded by the state…” yet, this is exactly what has happened. Additionally, the state has continued to down shift costs to local communities without any increase in adequacy funding and consistent decreases in other types of educational funding. Add to this the ever-increasing costs of healthcare, contracts, and facilities, and the funding gap has widened to crisis proportions across New Hampshire, with local property taxpayers unfairly bearing the burden and screaming for relief.
But taxpayers aren’t the only ones affected. Increased costs and decreasing enrollment has forced local school districts to make budget and program cuts. As a result, a growing number of NH children no longer have access to the basic education required for college admission. Workforce readiness is impacted negatively when high schools cut back programs that would prepare students to enter the job market with the required skills, which further impacts a NH business’ ability to successfully hire and retain local employees. Without well-funded strong public schools, and the resulting potential workforce, businesses are being forced to leave NH no matter how favorable the business tax picture.
The average cost of educating a child in New Hampshire is $15,000 per year. The state provides funding for most students at $3,636 per year. Approximately $1,750 is added for special education students, and $750 is provided for students who qualify for free/reduced lunch. Adequacy aid is a complicated calculation further confused by the towns sending the state a “tax” that is then redistributed to the districts. And while the state does not currently provide funding for private schools or home-schooled students, proponents of SB193 are committed to resurrecting this issue in the upcoming legislative session, draining additional funds from the public schools that are already underfunded. The passage of a similar bill could create a situation where parents are provided an incentive to move their children from public to private education, thus creating more stress on the public school system. We are in a spiral that will only get worse, unless we act.
Who is responsible to solve this problem? We all are, together.
Our School Board and District leadership are addressing what we can: repurposing buildings, creating public-private partnerships for educational opportunities, renegotiating contracts and re-evaluating staffing levels and program offerings. Our town leaders are working in partnership with our school boards to find ways to reduce the tax burden.
The New Hampshire constitution Article 83 clearly outlines the state’s role in providing public education:
“Knowledge and learning, generally diffused through a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; and spreading the opportunities and advantages of education through the various parts of the country, being highly conducive to promote this end; it shall be the duty of the legislators and magistrates, in all future periods of this government, to cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries and public schools…”
The constitution also provides for the State’s responsibility to allocate sufficient funds to do so, by establishing that the NH State lottery system would provi de state aid for education. (Article 83, 6-b)
We need our state leaders and candidates for office in November to move this issue to the front burner now.
We are asking the State to be a full partner and pay its fair and legal share. We are asking our state leaders to address this inequity and to bring fairness to the funding model as provides for a rebalance of investment in public education in two ways:
a. Provide for a fair sharing of costs between the state and local school districts, reinstating cuts made over the last five years.
b. Provide for a substantially increased investment per student in our public schools and revisit the disparity between funding for private and public school students. Article 83: “…no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools or institutions of any religious sect or denomination.”
New Hampshire succeeds when our children succeed. We must act now and act together to strengthen our public education system and bring fairness to New Hampshire’s education funding structure. We thank you in advance for your consideration and partnership.
Members of the ConVal Selectman’s Advisory Committee to the Board of Education, authorized signers on behalf of our respective town Select Boards:
[signed by 22 school board and select board members]