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Public Officials from Across N.H. Ask Lawmakers to Reconsider School Funding

Sarah Gibson for NHPR

A group of New Hampshire mayors, city councilors, and school board members are urging state budget writers to overhaul how the state funds public education.

Schools got a temporary funding boost after high-profile negotiations last budget cycle, and they’re eligible this year for an unprecedented amount of federal money through the three COVID-related relief packages. But longstanding issues with the state’s school funding formula remain.

The letter – penned by Somersworth city councilor and teacher Matthew Gerding and signed by public officials from Somersworth, Manchester, Dover, Keene, and other cities – asks lawmakers to take up recommendations from a year-long commission to study school funding.

This commission was spearheaded by Democrats last year, and, among other things, recommended changing how the state collects and distributes statewide education property taxes (SWEPT). The amount raised through this tax has remained the same - $353 million – for 15  years, and is retained by towns, including wealthy ones. Advocates for increasing school funding say it should be redistributed to property-poor communities.

“The quality of education, the resources available to educators, and the opportunities for students now vary dramatically from community to community,” Gerding writes in the letter. “Oftentimes the communities in the most need of resources and opportunities are those that struggle to raise funds through local property taxes, yet are forced year-in and year-out to raise taxes.”

New Hampshire spends more money per pupil than most states, but it relies more than any other state on local property taxpayers to foot the bill.

New Hampshire supports its schools in part through “per-pupil adequacy” aid. Declines in public school enrollment and bureaucratic hurdles to counting low-income students during the pandemic means that schools are slated to receive less adequacy aid next year.

Gov. Chris Sununu and state senators say they want to fix at least part of this and fund schools based on their enrollment before the pandemic. But some lawmakers say the pandemic has made it difficult to begin an ambitious overhaul of the state’s adequacy formula.

House leaders did not include any measures to address the COVID effect on school funding, nor examine longstanding concerns over the state’s adequacy formula. The chair of the House Education Committee did not respond to NHPR for comment.

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