With Court Case Looming, Commission Begins to Examine School Funding

Jan 24, 2020

 

Berlin's Brown Elementary School, which closed in 2019 partially due to funding woes.
Credit Sarah Gibson for NHPR

A group of lawmakers, attorneys, former state officials, and school administrators is beginning to meet to study and improve the state’s troubled school funding formula

The Commission to Study School Funding comes as the State Supreme Court considers a case against the state alleging it is not fulfilling its constitutional obligation to fund an “adequate” education.

The state currently funds less than a third of the overall cost of public schools in New Hampshire, though the budget passed in 2019 increased state aid significantly.

Like school funding committees before it, the 16-member commission will calculate the costs of an adequate education and recommend how the state will fund this. The commission has a deadline of fall 2020, but a proposed bill from Senator Jay Kahn (D) would push that to January 2021.

Citing the Supreme Court’s Claremont decisions on education funding in the 1990’s, Representative David Luneau (D) says the committee will be assessing equity of access and taxations. 

“Students across the state don’t have equitable access. That’s going to be a very important mission for the work that the commission does,” he says. “How do we make sure we're providing that equitable access to students and families across the state?”

The commission is also expected to tackle how the formula should factor in the state’s declining enrollment. It currently calculates aid to schools in part based on student population. 

“We have to work out more of a program-based education funding model, where there’s more weight given to certain programs,” says Representative Rick Ladd (R), another member of the committee.

 

Some of those programs, according to Ladd, are career and technical schools (CTE’s) Fourteen percent of New Hampshire schools are currently enrolled in CTE’s. Ladd says that number is expected to grow, but the state does not factor these programs into its funding formula. 

 

The commission begins its regular meeting on Monday, January 27 at 2 p.m. in the legislative office building.