Zip code is destiny for New Hampshire’s children. We have a school funding system that leaves New Hampshire communities on their own to raise whatever they can on local property taxes.
Now, the New Hampshire Business Review has taken has provided a detailed analysis of the fiscal plight of our property poor communities as they try to come up with the money to pay for their schools. Author Michael Kitch zeros in on the 19 most property-poor cities and towns with populations greater than 1,000 people – here is a map. He captures their plight in his opening paragraph:
In Claremont, the property tax rate is $42.66 per $1,000 of valuation – the highest in the state. Households earn a median income of $47,555, less than 70 percent of the statewide median. More than one in 10 residents live in poverty, one in five receive food stamps and more than one in four are enrolled in Medicaid.
High tax rates. Low incomes. High poverty. Claremont – all of these communities – are straining to do right by their children but face formidable odds.
It starts with low property values compared to the community population and number of students. That’s partly because so much of their land is in what’s called “current use,” subject to reduced taxes or not taxed because it is public or conservation land. In Berlin, for instance, an amazing 87% of the land is in current use. In Pittsfield and Claremont, the figure is 68%.
And these communities have among the highest poverty rates in the State. While 26 percent of New Hampshire children qualify for free and reduced price lunches (185 percent of poverty), more than 50 percent qualify in Berlin, Claremont, Charlestown, Franklin, Pittsfield, Winchester, Farmington and Newport.
So families in these communities are particularly hard hit by property tax rates. But Kitch points out that a Legislature committed to reducing its own budget makes matters worse by shifting more fiscal burden to communities by eliminating revenue sharing and support for public employee health and retirement costs. Now, even the “stabilization fund” created to target education aid specifically to the communities most in need, is being reduced by 4% per year, going to zero over 25 years.
As Claremont attorneys John Tobin and Andy Volinsky criss-cross New Hampshire educating taxpayers and local leaders on the fact that our school funding system is no fairer or less reliant on local property taxes than it was before the Claremont decisions, communities have started taking up the challenge to do something about it. The towns of the ConVal School District have issued a call to their elected officials and candidates to address the school funding fairness issues and have offered to help other communities mobilize. Now is the time.