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“Suncook Valley Supports Equity in Education” puts school funding fairness on the campaign agenda

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Suncook Valley Supports Equity in Education asked their candidates four key school funding questions:
  • What will you do to ensure that NH updates its adequacy grants to realistic levels?
  • What will you do to make school property taxes fair and equal across the state?
  • As an immediate measure, would you support a moratorium on cuts to stabilization aid?
  • If you are in favor of a constitutional amendment on school funding, what would such an amendment say?

The Suncook Valley group is one of a growing number of community groups formed in response to the School Funding 101 forums that attorneys Andy Volinsky and John Tobin have been holding in communities throughout New Hampshire.  Here is the ambitious initiative taken by the ConVal communities, which has already been emulated in Newport and other communities, including Monadnock, Keene, and Claremont.

SVSEE got important and informative answers, published on their Facebook page and in the Suncook Valley Sun, which covers Barnstead, Chichester, Epsom, Gilmington, Northwood and Pittsfield.

Senator John Reagan said,

I would suggest the wrong question is being asked. The correct question: How do we provide the best possible education for our children and for each child? How do we best afford this education?

Your first question concerns the adequacy payment amount from the statewide education property tax. I am introducing a bill to increase the adequacy amount $9,000 for every NH child attending a NH public school. (The current amount is about $3,600.)

Sen. Reagan had proposed here that the new funding come from the Statewide Property Tax (SWEPT).

Secondly you ask how tax rates can be “fair” and equal. This is the veiled attempt to create an income tax and greatly expand the size, scope and functions of government. While it is an appealing idea to equalize and treat everyone fairly we know it is impossible to control local spending. Local control decides how much each community devotes to whatever are their priorities.

The proposed adequacy amount gives each classroom of 20 students $180,000.00 to spend on that group of twenty students. When a community adds to that level of spending they are controlling their own tax rates.

Third, when the stabilization reduction bill was proposed it was an immediate return to zero dollars. The compromise was the 25 year phase in of the reductions. This is a 4% reduction each year, not of the school budget but of the smaller portion of the stabilization amount.

Fourth and last is an idea to change the state constitution. Perhaps instead we should be looking at the way we teach our children and how we can better prepare our students.

To the Suncook Valley group, Sen. Reagan’s response about the constitutional amendment included an additional sentence: “I don’t see a need to take this fundamentally drastic and powerful route to solve a spending problem.”

My vision for education is allowing many different places and methods adapting to each individual child. Encouraging competition will see many providers with parents deciding who can best prepare their children. Organized teacher, and especially administrators organizations will oppose competition. I wonder why.

Senator John Reagan
Chair of Senate Education Committee

Senator Reagan’s opponent, Democratic candidate Chris Roundy, gave the following response published on the SVSEE Facebook page and said this in his letter to the Suncook Valley Sun:

To make sure that New Hampshire updates its adequacy grants to realistic levels, we must stop the planned cuts and establish an accurate statewide cost of educating a student.  We know it’s more than $3,636.

To make school property tax rates fair and equal across the state, the first step is to re-establish the Building Aid fund and use it to incentivise regionalization of our smaller school districts.   Next would be to create a fund to reimburse towns under a certain “equalized property valuation” level for the income they lose for property that’s been placed in current use. The state needs to reimburse those towns for some portion of the lost revenue.

I would fight against any cuts to stabilization aid and at a minimum restore any prior cuts.

Instead of a Constitutional amendment on school funding, I’d prefer to see a whole cloth rework of the property tax system in which the state collected 100% of the revenue that would go towards schooling and then distribute it back to the SAUs on a $ per student basis.  There would obviously need to be some flexibility built-in for special education costs.  Education needs to be a state-wide concern.  The quality of a student’s education should not vary dramatically from town to town and the endless cycle of significant property tax increases that some towns have been forced into most stop.

Chris Roundy

Republican House candidate J. C. Allard responded this way to the SVSEE and summarized his position in his letter to the newspaper:

I believe that the first task is to get the legislature to acknowledge the “Claremont Decision” and recognize that the state has a responsibility to fund education in the 21st century. This is not a universally held view under the state house dome. I personally believe the state is in contempt of court on this issue and should be held to account. With current budget surpluses adequate funding models can be achieved and implemented without harm to the rest of the state budget. I will make it my mission to tell the house and senate that the views that our state constitution does not involve education is misguided, unrealistic and antiqued. A well-educated workforce is the key to the future of our state. Educational disparities based on finding cannot be allowed to restrict the development of young people from whatever town, city or village they happen to inhabit. I believe we must consider new models for NH schools. We need to look to consolidating high schools to get the most bang for the dollars invested and other partnerships that combine our strengths and minimize our deficiencies. But the first thing is to accept responsibility on a state level.

Republican House member Carol McGuire’s response is not posted by SVSEE but she says in her letter to the Suncook Valley Sun,

There’s currently a legislative “committee to study education funding and the cost of an opportunity for an adequate education” working on this issue, and I know that the Governor’s budget plan is being developed now. When the budget or a bill is complete, I will read it, do my best to understand the details and vote appropriately.

If I return as a committee chair, I will be obliged to vote for the final budget, but I’m free to vote on critical amendments,

I would seriously consider a bill to have the state take responsibility for all special education, including paying for it. Otherwise, I don’t believe school taxes should be equal across the state. Towns have the authority to control development and minimize (or maximize) their taxable base; schools have the ability to add or subtract expense items that are optional in terms of education. Without these powers, state funding to flatten tax rates is inappropriate.

As an immediate measure, would you support a moratorium on cuts to stabilization aid?  Would you support restoring the amount that has been cut since 2015?

No. Stabilization was never intended to be a permanent supplement to adequacy aid, which is based on student population and additional factors that affect how difficult it is to teach them (not speaking English, qualifying for free or reduced price meals, success at reading, and I believe special ed.) That’s the calculation that needs to be revised.

Without the legal language, a constitutional amendment on school funding should say that the primary responsibility for education funding is with the community, and the state has full authority to supplement as it sees fit. I would expect that property poor towns would receive the bulk of the funding, and am not opposed to including that in the amendment.

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