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John Streeter’s school funding testimony to the House Education Committee: Local education isn’t local anymore.

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Here is a somewhat shortened version (with emphasis added) of the testimony John Streeter presented to the House Education Committee concerning school funding.  (Read his full testimony here.) He provides a detailed rationale for funding education primarily at the state level instead of through local property taxes:

I am writing in support of any additional educational funding the state can provide to local communities. My comments would easily go to HB678, HB713, HB711, HB709, HB686, but most importantly in support of HB551; “AN ACT establishing a school funding commission and making an appropriation therefor.”

I reside in Charlestown NH on the banks of the Connecticut River in Sullivan County. Charlestown is by some estimates the 5th poorest town (property value per capita) in NH, with a total taxable property value of around $280mil. I raised 9 children here and put all but the last one through the Fall Mountain Regional School District (SAU60). I also spent 6 years on the school board (2011-2017) representing Charlestown. I also campaigned this summer for my first run at Sullivan District 8, and I knocked a lot of doors and spoke to a lot of registered voters in the process.

There is a level of desperation creeping into society surrounding local taxation and especially around how it funds education. I just wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts:

There is a misnomer about “local education”. It isn’t very local anymore.

….As a [school] board member I was well aware that my job as part of the board was to spend money and set policy, but frankly, over 80% (perhaps well over 80%) is predetermined by contractual obligations, energy requirements, and unfunded mandates to just keep it all going. There is very little “choice” and the cost of maintaining the status quo goes up every year.

Education is one of the few institutions whose costs are shouldered by the local community that doesn’t directly support the local community. Here is what I mean by that. My little town of Charlestown has a budget of around $4mil. When we come together for deliberative, we can talk about OUR police budget,…and to that end we all pay and we all see some benefit.

Education is different. We’ve always looked at it as though a local community is taking care of its own children, [but] today it is also an investment made by small towns that sees very little return on the it.

The cost of educating every child that walks across the stage at Fall Mountain in June will be in the neighborhood of $160,000 (an average of $12k/year for 13 years, with the current years cost to be over $16k). And what is the social benefit to the local community? The majority of these kids will not find work here, will not contribute to the local economy in a meaningful way, pay local property taxes, start businesses etc. They are far more likely to head to Concord, Manchester, or Nashua to find work, if they stay in the state at all. So, in a very real way, the tax payers in Charlestown are paying to build a resource (educated workforce) that will be utilized by some other town or community without reimbursement.

I knocked on over 300 doors in Sullivan district 8. Anecdotally, the single most important issue on voters’ minds was property taxes. The second one was education. I talked with people who weren’t taking their medication because they didn’t want to lose their homes to tax foreclosure and they couldn’t afford both. I talked to people who were more than a little distressed that their property valuation had gone down. You might think that less value would mean less taxes, but it doesn’t. It means same taxes, higher rate, less ability to sell, and less nest egg when it is time to sell. I spoke to the HR director for the largest private employer in Charlestown. She shared the frustration with paying the taxes that we pay, while not even turning out a competitive workforce. She said that they can hire entry level machinists all day, every day. However, if they need certain skill sets then they look to NY, CT, NC, GA or CA to find them. Then, they can’t retain them because the cost of local property taxes are just too high, and the value of other services are just too low.

Lastly, I just want to put out there, I spoke to dozens and dozens of people who looked at me and whispered, “I know that this is an unpopular thought, but when are we just going to put in a broad-based tax to fund education and make it fair for everyone?” Let that sink in a moment. I knocked over 300 doors in a community that went for Trump in 2016, and a full third asked me to support a broad-based tax if I was elected, and another third, when asked, said that it was about time, and that we really didn’t have much of a choice. Everyone whispered it like it was the most unholy thing ever uttered, but the majority agreed that it was time. This is why I am not only in support of any stop gap measure to help us in the short term, but I am also asking you to support a school funding commission. It is time to look at this objectively and completely.

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