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Five school funding reform bills reviewed on Tuesday

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InDepthNH has great coverage of Tuesday’s House Education Committee and House Ways and Means Committee hearings on school funding.  (Reaching Higher NH videos of the hearings are here.)

Committee chair Rep. Mel Myler has indicated that he would form a subcommittee to debate and consolidate all education funding bills, hoping to send a single bill to the House floor and on to the House Finance Committee.  Here are highlights from InDepthNH coverage of the hearings:

Changes in the way the state raises money for education and distributes it back to communities drew large and sometimes emotional crowds to multiple House committees on Tuesday.

House Bill 678-FN is a Democratic effort that, if passed, would almost triple the amount of money provided for an adequate education from $3,561 per pupil to $9,929. It would add $802 per student for transportation costs.

While it came first in Education Committee Chairman Mel Myler’s order, it elicited emotional testimony about education revenue inequality and how that leads to students in different communities getting disparate educations.

“I’m not naive and I know the likely outcome,” said lead sponsor Rep. Marjorie Porter, D-Hillsborough. “But the figures in this bill make it pretty clear how far from adequate our adequacy numbers are.”

The fiscal note says the bill would add $1.129 billion in expenditures in fiscal year 2020, which begins on July 1, 2019. Identified revenue sources include the state education trust fund and local revenues.

Rev. Jay MacLeod said, “Parents of poor kids pay a higher rate than do parents of rich kids.”…

“I encourage the Education Committee to level the playing field by making real and fundamental changes (in the way education funds are distributed),” he said.

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, who supports HB 678-FN, said if passed it would become effective immediately. His school district has a $700,000 shortfall even after closing the last elementary school in the city.

“We cannot survive another year,” Grenier said.

The Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on HB 686-FN, which would levy a capital gains tax in addition to an existing five-percent tax on interest and dividends that would raise $94 million to provide a one-time payment to school districts.

That would restore the 12 percent of stabilization grant income lost to school districts from 2012 to 2019. If passed, the measure would adjust upward the base adequacy per student from $3,708 to $4,500. It would also adjust differential aid upwards for students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, special education and English language learners.

“This is a giant step forward,” said Rep. Joelle Morton, D-Hillsborough, saying the funding would relieve the upward pressure on property taxes….

Altogether the Education Committee heard testimony on four education funding bills from a total of 24 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. They all seek to accomplish the same thing – increase to some degree the level of funding that reaches local school districts.

House Bill 709-F, has wide bipartisan House support and includes senators from both sides of the aisle. It seeks to re-institute the concept of fiscal capacity disparity aid, which adjusts the amount a school district gets from various state and local sources according to the equalized value of the taxable property base….

If passed, it would also address the disparities associated with rural versus urban transportation costs and require school district accountability. It would eliminate stabilization funds, which have been distributed to school districts since 2012 to offset the funding lost when disparity aid was discontinued by the legislature in 2011…..

[Lead Claremont attorney and now Executive Councilor Andru ]Volinsky supports House Bill 551 that, if passed, would create a commission to study education funding and appropriate $500,000 to support its mission. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing Wednesday at 10 a.m.

“The very fact that four different funding bills are on the table indicates that we need a good study supported by nationally known school finance experts so that we all know how much an ‘adequate education’ costs and the best way to direct state aid to support all schools,” according to a legislative alert issued by Volinsky and Tobin.

House Bill 711-FN is a second measure proposed by Democrats and it would increase the base level of adequacy aid per student to $4,900 per pupil in municipalities where the population is 7,000 or greater, to $5,600 per pupil in towns with populations between 4,000 and 7,000, to $6,300 per pupil in towns with populations between 2,000 and 4,000 people, and to $7,000 per pupil in towns of less than 2,000.

Adequacy adjustment

House Bill 713-FN is a largely Republican effort to adjust the amount of adequacy aid per pupil from $3,561.27 per student to $3,897. It establishes a grant fund that would include additional per-pupil funding in communities based on a formula that incorporates equalized property value per student with higher grants awarded to communities of lower value.

HB 713-FN would repeal stabilization aid, allow individual school boards to establish transportation policies, including eliminating a district’s responsibility to provide transportation. It’s the result of about 20 meetings of a committee over the summer to adjust the amounts to provide for education, said Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston.

Read the whole piece here.


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