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State Commission Recommends Major Overhaul Of N.H. Public School Funding

The New Hampshire State House

A commission lead by Democratic lawmakers to study New Hampshire's mechanism for funding K-12 public schools says the state should drastically change how it directs money to each school district.

In its 180-page reportreleased on Tuesday, the commission found that under the state’s current funding formula, districts with higher rates of poverty, more students learning English as a second language, and with more special needs students continue to have lower standardized test scores, graduation rates, and attendance rates than average.

Those disadvantaged districts also had the state's highest property tax rates.

Credit Courtesy of the Commission to Study School Funding

The committee recommends that New Hampshire develop a new formula that directs a bigger share of its education budget to districts with higher needs.

The goal: help all students achieve at least the average statewide level of performance in graduation, attendance, and test scores.

Tax attorney William Ardinger, one of the committee members, says this is inspired by other states in the northeast, including Massachusetts, that modified their funding formula with equity in mind.

"Any school funding system reform must start with the top principle of directing our precious resources to the communities that have the greatest need, so that the children who live there can have access to high-quality public education just like all students throughout the state,” he said.

The Commission to Study School Funding is the latest attempt to improve New Hampshire’s contentious education funding formula, which relies on local taxpayers to foot most of the ever-growing bill for public schools.

The original formula emerged after a series state Supreme Court cases in the 1990s and is based on an estimation of costs schools incur to provide a “constitutionally adequate” education to all students. It has been the center of political debates for decades.

The overhaul recommended by this year's commission would increase the state education budget and shift how statewide property taxes are collected and distributed.

But this could be a tough sell with Republican lawmakers now in the majority, particularly as the state faces an economic downturn brought on by the pandemic.

However, Democratic Sen. Jay Kahn noted that the new model could work “with any level of state distribution that the legislature and Governor believe we can afford.”

Read the full report here.

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