First the good news: On Thursday, the House approved HBs 1 and 2, as amended and proposed by the House Finance Committee (the House budget bills.) These bills incorporate the contents of the three funding bills we’ve been following: HBs 177, 709, and 551. If passed by the Senate and approved by the Governor, they’d restore stabilization grants to 2016 levels for FY 2020, add significant fiscal capacity disparity aid and additional free and reduced lunch aid beginning in FY 2021, and establish a funded, independent commission to develop a new school funding formula. Overall, $164 million in increased aid would go to local school districts around the State, paid for by a capital gains tax.
Now the bad news: Though the House budget bills passed, not a single Republican voted for them. Moreover, two last-minute amendments to HB2, offered by Rep. Rick Ladd, signaled a dramatic loss of Republican support for funding measures which many Republicans had voted for just weeks ago.
1. Stabilization grants.
One of the Ladd amendments would have cut in half the amount of stabilization funding designated in the budget for school districts in 2020. Instead of restoring stabilization grants to 2016 levels, as the House budget bill provides, his amendment would have restored them to 2018 levels, meaning that communities, in the aggregate, would have received about $12.5 million in stabilization funding rather than the $25 million that’s in the House budget bill.
Fifty-six Republicans and two Democrats who voted in February to fully restore the stabilizations grants voted for the Ladd stabilization amendment last Thursday. Column G of this table identifies these representatives, a number of whom represent property-poor towns.
2. Targeted aid.
The other Ladd amendment would have, among other things, significantly cut the amount of targeted aid (fiscal capacity disparity aid and additional free and reduced lunch aid) that’s provided under the House budget bill.
According to an analysis by Reaching Higher NH, the House budget bill would give 154 communities across NH at least a 5% boost in state funding, and the most vulnerable communities would receive 15%-20% more. The House budget bill caps increases in aid to any district at 20% above their current funding.
The Ladd amendment would have lowered this cap to 1.5%, thus reducing by about $107 million the amount of targeted aid the state would pay to districts across the State in 2021. It also would have removed the funding for the independent commission to study school funding, as set out originally in HB 551. [Other provisions include removing the proposed capital gains tax, which the House bill added to pay for the school funding increases, and making changes to kindergarten and college funding.]
Fifty-five Republican representatives supported the 20% cap when they voted for HB 709 in February, but voted on Thursday to support Rep. Ladd’s amendment. Column H of this table identifies these representatives; again, a number of them represent property-poor towns.
What To Do
Democratic representatives who had worked in a bipartisan manner with Republicans in drafting HBs 177 and 709 were disappointed at the sudden reversal on school funding support, which presumably reflects pressure from the Republican party and the Governor. It’s going to take a lot of work to turn the measures we’ve been advocating into law.
There are no public hearings this week relevant to the school funding issues we’ve been following, but there’s plenty to do.
1. Let your representatives know you’re paying attention and tell them how you feel about their votes.
You can find out who your representative(s) are and how to contact them here. Columns E and F of this table show how every representative voted on the two amendments, and the remaining columns show how some representatives’ positions have changed over time. Please note that although all voting Republican legislators supported the amendments, some representatives were absent or didn’t vote that day. Therefore, it’s important to check the list before assuming that your Republican representative voted a certain way. (Do contact the absentees, though, to express your hope that when the issue comes up again, they’ll support the school funding proposals of the House budget bill, and tell them why.)
2. You convinced House Education and House Finance; now work your magic with the Senate.
a. Regardless of whether your Senator is a Republican or Democrat, s/he needs to hear a strong message from constituents that school districts are hurting and need the significant relief contained in the budget bills passed by the House. You can find out who your Senator is and his/her contact information here. Consider arranging a meeting with him/her with a group of constituents.
b. The Senate Finance Committee will study school funding as part of its review of the entire budget. No budget hearings are scheduled yet, but it’s not too soon to let members of the committee know how critical this issue is to you and your community. A list of their names and contact information can be found here. It’s especially important to reach Senators D’Allesandro and Feltes, the chair and vice chair of the committee, to be sure they understand the critical importance of school funding and the degree of concern among people all around the state about what’s happening to taxpayers and schools.
3. Contact the Governor. Tell Governor Sununu how the current system of education funding hurts your community and ask him to support the funding measures contained in the House budget bills. Remind him that constituents all around the state are clamoring for school funding reform. Contact information for Governor Sununu may be found here.
4. Help spread the word. It’s important that citizens across the State gain a deeper understanding of the complex issue of school funding and how the current structure affects their communities, so that they, in turn, can push for a real solution. School Funding 101 presentations are currently scheduled in the following places (and a few others are in the works). Please help spread the word.
- Portsmouth: Tuesday, April 16 at 6:00 p.m. at Portsmouth High School, 50 Andrew Jarvis Drive, Portsmouth, NH
- New Durham, April 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the New Durham Public Library, 20 Old Bay Road, New Durham, NH
- Plaistow, April 22 at 6:00 p.m. at Timberlane Performing Arts Center, 36 Greenough Rd, (between the High School and Middle School), Plaistow
- Plymouth: May 1, at 6:00 p.m. in Room 220, Hyde Hall at Plymouth State University.