Amanda Cordier has been thinking about moving her kids out of the Manchester school district, but after a "Save our Schools" forum at Memorial High School on Thursday, she's worried school funding woes will follow her.
"I knew that Manchester definitely has funding problems, but it was a big eye-opener for me that the whole state is impacted," Cordier said. "It’s not just us and our little community. It’s a problem statewide.”
Towns from Coös to Rockingham County with below-average property values are struggling to fund schools through property taxes, say the SOS forum's presenters, Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky and attorney John Tobin.
They say the state is failing to meet its constitutional obligations to adequately fund education, and they're urging residents to pressure their lawmakers on education funding this legislative session, before resorting to another lawsuit.
Volinsky and Tobin both sued the state over education funding in the 1990's, which resulted in Supreme Court decisions Claremont I and II, that require the state to provide a "constitutionally adequate education" and for the property taxes that pay for education to be "uniform in rate" across the state.
"The state has not even come close to meeting its responsibility," Volinsky said. "It has downshifted that responsibility to the local communities, and you all have very different abilities to meet that financial burden."
Marcella Termini, whose son has autism, watched as Volinsky scrolled through a series of slides showing Manchester's per-pupil spending at nearly $4,000 below the state's average of $15,865.
The state and federal DOE send extra money to districts with special education kids. Termini says it isn't enough to cover the rising costs of special education.
"There are a lot of kids who do need a one-to-one para-educator to get them through and participate like any other kid," she said. "That costs money, and that seems to be a real sticking point for Manchester. There's just not enough money to go around for that."
New Hampshire's per-pupil spending is higher than the country's average, but over 70 percent of that comes from local tax payers.
Some attendees blamed Manchester's inability to raise enough money on its tax cap.
Others pointed out the impact of struggling schools on Manchester's ability to attract businesses and young families.
Tobin said he wants to invite businesses to a future forum.
"Get us invited to your Chamber of Commerce,” Tobin said. “This information has a wide appeal."