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Help Wanted! (at this week’s Senate budget hearings)

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Budget Hearings Coming Right Up

As we reported last week, the NH Senate Finance Committee will hold public hearings this week about the House budget bills.  One additional hearing has been added.  The hearings are:

1) Tuesday afternoon, May 7, 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. in Representatives’ Hall, second floor of the New Hampshire State House, 107 N Main Street, Concord, NH,

2) Tuesday evening, May 7, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. in Representatives’ Hall, second floor of the New Hampshire State House, 107 N Main Street, Concord, NH, and

3) Wednesday evening, May 8, at 7:00 p.m. at Manchester City Hall, Aldermanic Chambers (3rd floor), 1 City Hall Plaza, Manchester, NH

The House budget bills now under consideration by the Senate cover a variety of issues, but the school funding provisions include:

  • restoring lost stabilization grants to 2016 levels in Fiscal Year 2020,
  • significantly increasing State education spending beginning in Fiscal Year 2021, with meaningful aid specifically targeted for struggling districts, and
  • establishing a funded, independent commission to devise a long-term, sustainable, Constitutional plan for education funding.  

We continue to believe that all three goals should be included in the budget that’s ultimately adopted.

We’re a little bit worried…

We’ve become increasingly concerned that senators on both sides of the aisle are not on board with the House budget’s school funding provisions. Some are not yet convinced that the level of funding designated is necessary; others disagree with the House’s proposal to pay for it via a capital gains tax.

We take no position on the best way to pay for education.  However, in order to comply with the NH Constitution, provide fair opportunities to all NH children and relieve over-burdened NH property taxpayers, lawmakers must find SOME way to adequately pay for public education, at least until a long-term solution is adopted by the legislature after the independent commission does its work.  If a capital gains tax is not to their liking, then lawmakers must come up with a different plan that is adequate, sustainable and fair.

We need a massive showing!

Most politicians want to be re-elected, and when tossed a problem that requires significant funding, they are usually happy to duck. Given the history of inadequate funding even in the face of court orders, it seems the only way to convince our lawmakers to take meaningful action on school funding is to let them know their constituents will settle for nothing less.

Please round up some friends and neighbors and attend one of the three budget hearings.  Tell the senators:

  • How your local schools are coping (or not) with the constant reductions in State aid over the past years and what the impact of inadequate funding has been on students.  (School board members, administrators, teachers and other staff members, parents and students can all tell powerful stories based on their first-hand experiences)
  • How you, as a taxpayer, business owner, and/or community member, are affected by the downshifting to local taxpayers of the State’s constitutional responsibility for funding our public schools
  • The impact of state funding shortfalls on the overall well-being of your community and its ability to attract businesses and newcomers

As mentioned in the last newsletter, your time to speak will probably be limited to 2-3 minutes, so it’s best to focus on one or two points. If you have more to say, include it in written testimony that you hand in at the time. (It’s helpful, but not essential, to submit seven copies – one for each senator on the committee and one for the committee clerk.) Coordinate your testimony with others, if you can, so all important points get covered.  

The hearing could go for several hours; people will be there to testify about a wide variety of budget-related issues, not just education funding, so be prepared to stay a while!

When you get to the hearing, look for the sign-up sheets – they allow you to indicate whether you support or don’t support the budget bill, and then to check off whether you do or don’t wish to speak.  If you can’t find them, just ask around and someone will point you in the right direction.

If you’re unable to attend either of the hearings, please email the members of the Senate Finance Committee to share your thoughts.  You may reach them all in a single email by going here, scrolling down to “Finance” and clicking on “email entire committee”. Meanwhile, both hearings will be live-streamed on the General Court website here, and the hearing on Wednesday in Manchester will be aired on Manchester Public TV as well.

For the wonks among you:  If you’re interested in diving more deeply into the House budget bill, here’s a Policy Brief on the subject, prepared by the NH Fiscal Policy Institute.  (Scroll down to the Education section.) However, rest assured that you don’t need to know this level of detail in order to testify at the hearing – lawmakers simply need to hear your stories and concerns, based on your own experience and knowledge.

Word Continues to Spread

  1.  A presentation for senators.  John Tobin will give a School Funding 101 presentation to the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday morning.  All senators are invited, and we hope many will attend to learn more about the hardships and inequities caused by our current education funding structure. The presentation is open to the public; feel free to sit in! (Tuesday, May 7 at 10:30 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building room 103).

 

NHPR forum.  Last Tuesday, NHPR aired an informative discussion on school funding.  It included two panels moderated by Laura Knoy, with input from Sarah Gibson:

Panel 1: John Tobin (Chair of NH School Funding Fairness Project and a Claremont lawsuit attorney), Jessica Huizenga (Superintendent of Milford School District), and John Freeman (Superintendent of Pittsfield School District)

Panel 2: Representatives Dave Luneau (D from Hopkinton) and Rick Ladd (R from Haverhill) – both serve on the House Education Committee

You can watch or listen to the discussion here.  

The Milford and Pittsfield School Districts are representative of struggling districts around the state.  Their superintendents noted that taxpayers in their communities continue to dig deep to pay for schools, but this comes at great personal cost, because their low tax bases lead to high tax rates.  

If you go to this link, you’ll see slides comparing Milford and Pittsfield with two districts of comparable size but with above-average property valuations (Portsmouth and Rye, respectively).  You can see that even though taxpayers in Milford and Pittsfield are paying higher tax rates than those in Portsmouth and Rye, they’re still unable to provide anywhere near as much school funding, per pupil, as the more property-wealthy towns.

These differences translate into many thousands of dollars less per classroom per year in the struggling towns. The last slide shows that, compared with Portsmouth, Milford has about $47,000 less to spend annually on each class of 20 students.  That $47,000 could add significantly to the quality of the education offered in a classroom. As just one example, it could pay for a paraprofessional to help children with attentional issues stay focused on their lessons while the teacher teaches the class.  

The NHPR panel discussion was a follow-up to the Adequate series by reporter Sarah Gibson which has addressed many aspects of school funding. Among other topics, the program looks at how budget cuts and funding inadequacies are experienced in particular communities, such as Manchester, Pittsfield, and Berlin.  It’s definitely worth a listen! (You can also read transcripts of the reports, if you prefer.)

  1.  Future School Funding 101 presentations

Please help us spread the word by helping to organize a presentation in your community.  Often school boards are willing to serve as hosts, but other entities and organizations such as libraries and rotary clubs are also suitable. (Hosting requires offering a location for the presentation and helping to get word out).  Please email schoolfundingfairness@gmail.com if you’d like to help bring a presentation to your community.

Currently, these presentations are scheduled:

  • Wolfeboro:  May 8 at 7:00 p.m at Wolfeboro Town Hall, 84 South Main Street, Wolfeboro
  • North Conway:  May 15 at 6:00 p.m. at Kennett High School, Loynd Auditorium, 409 Eagle’s Way, North Conway

For additional updates and information, follow us on Facebook:  NHSchoolFundingFairness


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