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ConVal School District Sues State Over Education Funding

John Phelan / Wikipedia Creative Commons

In a move that surprised many education funding advocates, the ConVal School District in southwestern New Hampshire filed a lawsuit today against the state, claiming lawmakers have failed to fund an adequate education.

The complaint names the state of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Department of Education, Governor Sununu and DOE Commissioner Frank Edelblut as defendants.

It says the "adequacy aid" that the state sends to districts needs to triple to meet basic requirements laid out in state law.

The complaint references a series of New Hampshire Supreme Court decisions from the 1990s called the Claremont cases. These spanned seven years and had 18 lawyers working on behalf of property-poor school districts.

In the end, the court said New Hampshire needed to fund an adequate education with fair and equitable taxation.

Janine Lesser, a member of the ConVal School Board, says the state hasn't done this.

"We have an obligation to go back to the state and say it isn't fair for us to keep on expecting our local taxpayers to keep on shouldering this burden as you don't take up this requirement of the constitution," she said.

The lawsuit says the current price tag for a base "adequate education" —  $3,636.06 — does not reflect accurate costs for facilities, transportation, and teacher salaries and benefits.

It also notes that the current formula excludes services mandated by the state, such as nurses, superintendents, and food services.

By ConVal's calculation, the state should pay $10,343.60 per student, which would total over $22 million per year.

Micheal Tierney, ConVal's attorney, says he did not confer with attorneys or districts that were involved in the Claremont lawsuits, but the court's decision on this lawsuit could have sweeping effects.

"Many of the arguments that Conval is making would be applicable to many school districts across the state."

School districts that were involved in the original Claremont lawsuits have threatened legal action for years, but many are focusing this year instead onlegislation that would increase adequacy aid.

Carl Ladd, the executive director of the N.H. School Administrators Association, says he worries about the lawsuit's timing.

"I can really sympathize with school board and community, but the courts aren't going to be a quick fix," he says. "My fear is that if this is back in court, the legislature will just wait and not do anything."

He says regardless of whether the lawsuit ends up at the Supreme Court, calculating adequacy is ultimately up to the legislature.

The Attorney General's office declined to comment, saying it had not yet received a copy of the complaint.

In response to the lawsuit, DOE Commissioner Frank Edelblut issued the following statement:

"The amount and source of education funds, in addition to educational attainment associated with that investment, is a vitally important conversation to have for our children’s future. I hope that through this action, the Legislature can actively engage in constructive dialog and we look forward to supporting them in that effort."

Read the lawsuit below here:

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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