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Finally, a Budget!

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From NH School Funding Fairness Project’s 9/30/19 Newsletter:

Finally, the Legislature and Governor have reached a budget deal, and there’s a lot to like!  Basically, for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021, the Governor agreed to all of the new school funding that was contained in the Committee of Conference budget that passed the Legislature in June.

This means that a total of $138 million in new school funding will be dispersed to school districts in Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021.  An increase in education funding of this magnitude hasn’t been seen in many years.  And as icing on the cake,  the compromise budget also retained the $40 million in Municipal Aid that was in the Legislature’s budget – money that could be used, at least in part, for property tax relief.

You can see how much your community will receive in the next biennium in new  Education Funding and Municipal Aid by looking here.   (The numbers will look familiar!)

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • In FY 2020, districts will receive stabilization grants restored to 2016 levels.  Check here to see an estimate of your district’s FY2020 stabilization grant.
  • In FY 2021, districts will receive:
    • stabilization grants at 2016 levels,
    • $50 million in Fiscal Disparity Aid, targeted, on a sliding scale, to “property-poor” communities
    • $12.5 million in “Additional Aid” based on the percentage of students eligible for Free or Reduced Price Meals
    • Check  here for an estimate of how much your district will receive in FY 2021 in restored stabilization grants and the new aid listed above.
  • $500,000 was allocated for an Independent Commission to study the issue and make recommendations to the legislature to ensure a uniform and equitable design for public school funding.  Its initial report is due back to the legislature by September, 2020.  (See info below about recommending members of the public to serve on the Commission.)

For more information about the budget deal, see this analysis by Reaching Higher NH.

How we got here (you all had a lot to do with it!)

It’s important to recognize the role that citizens have played in getting to this point.  For the past year, John Tobin, Andru Volinsky and Doug Hall have given more than 50 “School Funding and Property Taxes 101” presentations around the state, to help people understand the inequities in our current school funding system.  Throughout this legislative session, people like you – municipal leaders, school board members and administrators, parents, students, property taxpayers and other interested citizens – have contacted legislators and the Governor, testified at public hearings, written letters to the editor, and held signs at visibility events.

All of this interest led to a greater focus on school funding by legislators than has been seen in years.  And as a result of the continuing advocacy, every time a roadblock appeared – and, as you may recall, there were many – the pressure from constituents, along with the perseverance of our legislative allies, overpowered it. 

While many lawmakers devoted energy and expertise to the cause, Representatives Mel Myler and Dave Luneau (Chair and Vice Chair of the House Education Committee, respectively) deserve special thanks for crafting and persistently advocating for a framework that included the three elements that we’ve highlighted all year and that were finally signed into the budget last week:  immediate relief by restoring stabilization grants to 2016 levels; interim targeted relief for vulnerable districts; and a longterm plan involving an independent study commission.  

Representative Mary Jane Wallner (Chair of the House Finance Committee) used her leadership role to champion this approach,  ensuring that the three elements remained in the budget as it passed through her committee, and a number of other representatives, including Representatives Dick Ames, Sue Ford, Mary Heath, David Doherty, Linda Tanner and Doug Ley, worked hard to build support among their colleagues.  

On the Senate side, Senator Dan Feltes (Senate Majority Leader) and Senator Jay Kahn (Chair of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee) were staunch advocates for stressed municipalities, school districts and taxpayers, and their efforts to build consensus were instrumental in making possible the level of school funding that was included in the final budget.

And when all was said and done, Governor Sununu, members of the Committee of Conference, and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle found a way to work out their differences and ensure that at least for the next biennium a first step toward solving the school funding crisis has been taken.

What’s Not to Love?

One disappointment in the budget deal is that the Governor was only willing to approve the new “Fiscal Disparity Aid” and “Additional Aid” as one-time grants for FY2021 alone, rather than as on-going commitments.  This means the funding formula will have to be reconsidered and renegotiated in 2021.  Under the Legislature’s budget this new funding formula would have been enshrined into our laws until the Legislature affirmatively acted to change it.

Also, because school districts had to set their budgets for the 2019/20 school year before the State budget was finalized, districts must now modify their budgets if they want to make use of the new state funds approved for this school year.  This can be done by calling a special school district meeting. If no action is taken, the result will be that all of the additional aid will be used to reduce the local school tax rate when the rate is set by the Department of Revenue Administration later this fall. Ask your local Superintendent about the plan to make use of these funds.

And finally, it’s important to remember that this budget, while representing a significant and very welcome increase in funding for schools, doesn’t come close to meeting the State’s responsibility to fully fund an adequate education for every student using taxes imposed at a uniform rate across the state.  Which means…

Our Work is Not Done!

 

We need to continue to spread the word about the need for full State funding of public schools, to ensure that neither the quality of education nor the level of school taxes will be determined by zip code.  Please:

  • Keep having conversations with your neighbors about this issue.
  • Speak up at local gatherings to help people understand that their high property taxes shouldn’t be blamed on the schools; they reflect the fact that the State continues to downshift costs that it is Constitutionally responsible for.
  • Let the Governor and your Senator and Representatives know that you appreciate the progress made in this budget, but remind them that the State still must do more.  (Go here to find contact information for your Senator and Representatives, and send a message to the Governor here.)
  • Consider organizing a  “School Funding and Property Taxpayer 101” presentation in your community, to help raise public awareness of the inequities inherent in the way we fund public schools. Presentations may be organized by any non-partisan group or institution, including school districts, Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, public libraries, etc.  Although they are free,  we do ask the local organizers to publicize the event and provide the venue.  If you’d like one in your town or city, send us an email at  schoolfundingfairness@gmail.com.
More about the Independent Commission

The Independent Commission will include members of the public appointed by legislative leaders, and we suspect that many dozens of names will be under consideration.  If you would like to suggest someone to serve on the Commission, you should contact House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff or Senate President Donna Soucy right away.  Whatever the Commission ultimately recommends will be enhanced if its members are known and respected by a large portion of the public.

For additional updates and information:

1.  Follow us on Facebook:  NHSchoolFundingFairness
2.  See our new website at fairfundingnh.org to learn more about the NH School Funding Fairness Project.
3.  Check  Reaching Higher NH   for additional resources.


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