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Finally a Fix?
A look at the latest ideas for state education funding

12/01/11



The debate about the state’s role in education funding really comes down to one question: Should the state distribute funding for every student regardless of what individual districts spend on education, or should the state be targeting aid to financially strapped districts?

It’s a question that has been part of the debate since before the Claremont decision and one that lawmakers and the public might need to come up with an answer to in the next year or so.

Last month, Gov. John Lynch introduced language for a constitutional amendment to give the legislature more control over education funding, while maintaining judicial review.

Since a 1997 state Supreme Court decision, the state has been required to distribute education adequacy funding for every student in New Hampshire — $3,450 per student. Some districts can obtain more state funding through a number of channels, such as special education costs, building aid and free and reduced school lunch programs, but the state must spend $3,450 on every student as a base, regardless of how much districts spend outside of that.

The proposal wasn’t necessarily met with open arms, particularly in the legislature, whose leaders were miffed that Lynch, after many talks with them on the subject, neglected to tell them about his proposal and never made known to them language he would support.

And so the can of worms that is education funding and adequacy in New Hampshire is wide open yet again.
“The adequacy wars have been going on for almost three decades,” said Nathan Greenberg, superintendent of Londonderry schools.

There have been more than 80 attempts to introduce a constitutional amendment for education funding following the landmark Claremont lawsuit decision in 1997, which affirmed the initial decision of the state Supreme Court of 1992. That decision required the state to figure out the cost of an adequate education and then to fund an adequate education for every pupil.

New Hampshire is not alone. Many states have had litigation and controversy surrounding states’ roles in education funding. Massachusetts worked through education funding lawsuits, as did Vermont. It is a national issue. Still, New Hampshire is the only state that has a requirement that the state pay the entire cost of an adequate education to every community.

Lynch was hoping his proposal would be considered in the legislative session beginning in January. It doesn’t look like he’s going to get his wish.

This issue is one that politicians of all stripes periodically attempt to tackle. The state House of Representatives and the state Senate passed their own separate versions of constitutional amendments this year. House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, naturally wants the House version, his version, to be the one that moves forward. O’Brien tacked Lynch’s education funding language on to an amendment, sponsored it to get it before the legislature, and was hoping, urging and expecting the House to vote it down earlier this week on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

So perhaps Lynch’s proposal is out of the mix, and maybe so is the Senate’s, but with Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate, there stands a real chance that O’Brien’s amendment could be passed and then put before voters in 2012.

“Well, I think there’s a committed supermajority to finding a solution, and that’s been demonstrated...,” O’Brien said, noting that there’s more traction this time than in the previous 80-plus attempts to pass an education funding amendment in the House. “So we made progress in this area. We want to make sure the progress we made is not lost by the confusion of the other proposals, which will probably not get a majority, let alone a supermajority.”

Lynch has always said he wanted to address the issue of funding an adequate education. Lynch doesn’t have much political capital to play with now that he’s a lame duck governor. Still, it had appeared that he and the legislature had some common ground on which to tackle this issue.

“It is my strongly held belief that the state has a responsibility to ensure that every child in New Hampshire has the opportunity for a quality education,” Lynch said in a statement. “But to accomplish that goal, we need an amendment that allows the state to target aid to communities with the greatest needs, and that is what this amendment will do.”

“He has an amendment that he believes accomplishes the goals he has articulated the last couple years, and he thinks this is the best way to ensure every child in New Hampshire has an equal opportunity for a quality education in New Hampshire,” said Lynch’s spokesman, Colin Manning, last month.

But O’Brien doesn’t think Lynch went far enough in his language, particularly with regard to the court system. He believes there is a role for the courts in his proposal, but only to the extent that there is a rational choice. The review the Court has now, “strict scrutiny,” as it’s called, has the Court defining exactly how the legislature handles the issue, he said.

“Basically, there is a choice here,” O’Brien said. “One is to make sure we have control over taxes and spending….”

The New Hampshire School Board Association, a nonprofit organization based in Concord, is concerned about each of the amendments, of which there are at least three varieties. For the Association, the bottom line is that they remove the authority of the judicial system to review what the legislature is doing, said Ted Comstock, executive director of the Association.

“It’s is a major concern,” Comstock said. “It really takes us back to the pre-Claremont lawsuit days. We believe changing the constitution in any way, particularly with education, is a very drastic move, and would not work in the interest of the children of the state.”

Comstock wasn’t calling the current system a perfect one, but he said he thought the overall process created an “appropriate balance.”

“In short, the constitutional amendments being talked about ... we believe they shift the balance too dramatically to the legislature’s function...,” Comstock said.

At its core, this debate over school funding comes down to an ideological question (or at least it’s presented that way): do you think the state should spend the same education money on every student in the state, or do you think it should spend more on “needier” communities and less on “less needy” communities?

As it is now

As the state Supreme Court ruled, the state must meet educational adequacy requirements for every student in New Hampshire. The state distributed, as a base, $3,450 per student last year.

In determining that adequate-education base for every two-year budget, the legislature considers all legal residents who attend a school in their own district, are tuitioned by their resident district to a district-operated school in the state, or are tuitioned by the resident district to a non-public school, such as a special education program. Charter school students, preschool students and home-schooled students are not included, according to the state Department of Education website regarding Fiscal Year 2012 figures.

Districts can obtain more state funding through other channels, above adequacy aid. The state distributes $675 per student more for English Language Learners receiving English language instruction, as well as $1,856 extra for a special education student, according to DOE.

There are no legal restrictions preventing the legislature from approving more funding to communities it deems in need, but it must meet adequacy guidelines for every student first.

In the two Claremont decisions, the state Supreme Court ruled that an adequate education is a “fundamental right in New Hampshire...,” according to the Claremont Lawsuit Coalition, an organization that was founded in 1990 to address the unfairness of the state’s education funding system.

“Laws that affect fundamental rights receive the highest level of judicial scrutiny (called ‘strict scrutiny’) in order to protect individuals from governmental efforts to infringe on these rights,” according to the Coalition website.

The Coalition contends that a constitutional amendment would take away or at least reduce the “strict scrutiny” the court system currently has over education funding.

Three words and how they change things

Each proposal is slightly different, but the implications of the slight differences could be far-reaching.

Lynch’s proposal does include a provision for judicial review, but it’s difficult to tell what form that would take. Comstock said it hasn’t been interpreted or explained in detail. Even limited judicial review would be much different than the judicial system’s current role in the process and could potentially make for a substantially easier standard for the legislature to meet — “perhaps a little too easy of a standard,” Comstock said.

The legislature had scheduled a public hearing on Lynch’s funding amendment last week, as well as a session on Wednesday, Nov. 30, when the House had been expected to vote on Lynch’s proposal. Lynch did not appear at the public hearing on Nov. 22, and it was unclear whether he’d attend the session on Nov. 30.

The governor’s proposal comes the closest to enshrining the second Claremont lawsuit decision in 1997. It reads that the legislature will have the authority and responsibility to define reasonable education and to fund it. The Senate’s version reads that the legislature would have the authority, responsibility and discretion to fund education. The House’s version gives the legislature the authority and full discretion, O’Brien said.

The wording is key.

“The legislature shall have the authority and responsibility to define reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education, to establish reasonable standards of accountability, and to mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity. Further, in the exercise thereof, the legislature shall have full discretion to determine the amount of, and methods of raising and distributing, state funding for public education,” according to Lynch’s proposed language.

“The general court shall have the authority, responsibility, and discretion to define reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education, to establish reasonable standards of accountability therefor, and to mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity. Further, in the exercise thereof, the general court shall have full discretion to determine the amount of, and methods of raising and distributing, State funding for education,” reads CACR14, the Senate version.

“The general court shall have the authority and full discretion to define reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education, to establish reasonable standards of accountability therefor, and to mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity. Further, in the exercise thereof, the general court shall have full discretion to determine the amount of, and methods of raising and distributing, State funding for education,” reads CACR12, the House version.

The differences are subtle but present.

“You can see the three words at play here, ‘authority,’ ‘responsibility’ and ‘discretion’,” O’Brien said.

The governor’s proposal gives the legislature authority and responsibility, the Senate version gives the legislature authority, responsibility and discretion, while the House version gives the legislature authority and full discretion. The word “discretion” is important. Without giving the legislature discretion, it could be easier for the courts to get involved to review how the legislature is using its authority and how it’s living up to its responsibility.

The House version goes the furthest in removing the courts and in handing the keys, all the keys, to the legislature. Lynch’s proposal gives more authority to the legislature but it still requires lawmakers to define what a reasonable education is and then to fund it. The Senate version gives lawmakers the authority and the responsibility to fund education, but it also hands out some discretion — it doesn’t require a definition of adequate education. The House version gives it all to the legislature.

O’Brien said in Lynch’s version, the court would still be able to step in to make sure the legislature is distributing money the “best” way.

“What we’re trying to do is to get the courts out of primary and secondary education,” O’Brien said.

The Coalition Communities, a group of 35 New Hampshire communities working to create fairness in education funding and to eliminate donor towns and the statewide property tax, supports the concept of a constitutional amendment. The Coalition has not specifically endorsed any of the three proposals, said Pat Remick, of the Coalition. None of the proposals on the table now eliminate donor towns.

“From our viewpoint, a constitutional amendment is important,” Remick said. “It could eliminate the statewide property tax. But that’s not a guarantee. It does seem to be a step toward that.”

Opponents of the current amendments fear that they could give too much control to the legislature to fund education in a way that could be overly dependent on the economy and budgetary issues, making education a line item, and not an obligation in good and bad times.

“Our major concern is that we don’t think it’s good public policy to rewind to where we were 25 years ago, and that’s essentially what these proposals do,” Comstock said.

A funding system in flux


The longstanding controversy over education funding has resulted in a constantly evolving state funding system. The funding system has changed essentially every budget cycle. That’s one of the controversies with the overall issue ? that the adequacy funding formula is in a state of flux. That leads to inconsistency at the local level, not only in amount of funding, but also in planning for how much funding is coming, Comstock said.

“There still is a concern over what the total funding picture will be,” Comstock said.

This time around, the legislature did fund “adequacy” at the same level as in the prior biennium, which was a help to school districts. The problem for many is that there is no constitutional obligation to continue to do so in the future if any of the amendments out there now are passed. The Supreme Court’s ruling obligates the state to provide funding for an “adequate education” for every student in the state, even though officials seem to agree that $3,450 is hardly the cost of an adequate education.

Prior to Claremont’s lawsuit, the legislature could essentially assign school funding at any level it wished. Some years, the legislature doled out an adequate amount of funding, but not always. The Claremont case, as well as a series of other cases that came along, caused the state to ramp up how much money it was sending to school districts.

The Claremont lawsuit essentially determined that the legislature could not solely rely on districts to fund education on their own. It determined the state must provide some base amount. Prior to that education in New Hampshire had been, at its core, a locally funded system based on property taxes. Changes post-lawsuit were designed to make a more equitable state funding system where towns are sending in money to the state, and getting a good portion of that back for education. Every district receives something.

There are still inequalities, of course, substantial inequalities. While the state spends $3,450 per student as a base, how much individual communities spend per child varies dramatically. Amherst spent $14,060 per student on average in the 2009-2010 school year. Manchester spent $9,459 per student on average the same school year. Franklin spent less than $9,000 per student on average that year. Those figures factor in total expenditures per student, including local, state and federal funding sources.

So should lawmakers be able to find a way to give wealthy communities, like Hollis, which spent nearly $15,000 per student in the last school year, less per student while giving more to a needier community? That is likely to be a central question to the whole debate. If a district can meet the cost of an adequate education on its own, should it still receive $3,450 from the state?

“My concern, based on the language I’ve seen, is that many, many communities could wind up with significantly less support from the state, which will make it much more difficult to raise funds locally to maintain quality programs,” Greenberg said.

There are perceptions and realities, in some cases, that certain funding systems could create winners and losers. There is a fear that, particularly with the current legislative makeup, the current constitutional amendment options would allow the legislature to effectively get out of the state funding of education, leaving all, or very nearly all, of it up to each district to raise the money they need to fund education.

Prior to the Claremont decision, the state adopted the Augenblick formula, which was designed to focus state money to the neediest districts. But officials said the legislature only funded education through the formula for a year or two and at insufficient levels.

An adequate education?

As it stands now, every district in the state receives $3,450 per student each year from the state. Most would say that $3,450 per pupil is insufficient, and significantly less than the cost of a reasonable education.

The current adequacy formula factors in ways needy districts can obtain additional funding. For example, districts with lots of students with free and reduced lunches or with many English Language Learners can receive more state funding for those programs. The state’s school building aid program also allows the legislature to target aid to communities performing school building projects. A complex set of indicators allows certain districts to obtain more funding, officials said.

Lynch and other officials talk about wanting to target aid to the state’s neediest communities, and many talk about it with the implication that the current system doesn’t allow lawmakers to target those communities. Still, there is nothing in the state constitution that prevents the legislature from targeting aid to needy communities now ? but lawmakers do need to meet the $3,450 per student per district rate first. Lawmakers can always direct more money than that to needy communities. Of course, a lack of funding and political capital might not make that particularly possible.

Opponents of an amendment worry that while the idea of targeting aid can sound good, it opens another can of worms with regard to how the legislature would determine which are the neediest communities.

The current system isn’t necessarily broken, but many say there has never been enough revenue to distribute to communities in an effective way. That means the local property taxpayer is assuming more and more of the cost.

Politics as the art of the possible

Like or dislike the idea of a constitutional amendment, O’Brien certainly seems to have plenty of support in the House with a historic majority. He’s conscious of that. He appears to know it might be now or never.

Arnie Arnesen, a Democratic-leaning political pundit, said the issue isn’t necessarily partisan but it is ideological.

“If Gov. Lynch was a Republican, [Democrats] would be fighting Gov. Lynch,” Arnesen said. “[Democrats] disagree with his decision but Gov. Lynch is like the monkey in the middle.”

In holding a public hearing last week, O’Brien wanted to give the governor’s language a full and fair hearing. But, admittedly, O’Brien said Lynch’s proposal didn’t stand to get much support in the House, and so O’Brien wanted to “break the log jam.” He wanted to get down to a single amendment, preferably his own, to work with.

Lynch never presented Senate President Peter Bragdon or O’Brien any language he would agree to, though the three have talked a number of times this year about getting something done, O’Brien said.
As in all issues, politics are involved. O’Brien said not in a bad way, though. But politics is the art of the possible, he said, and what is possible here is to work with the House’s education funding amendment. Sure, lawmakers could continue to deal with the governor’s language or the Senate’s version ? that’s a fine intellectual discussion ? but in reality it’s the House’s version that has the demonstrated support of a supermajority, O’Brien said.

“I’m not surprised [Lynch] has an amendment, but we don’t have a good sense of his game plan,” said political analyst Dean Spiliotes in November.

O’Brien needs 239 votes to pass an amendment. He believes he has that in the House, but he knows he doesn’t have that many votes on the Senate version or Lynch’s language. He asked Lynch to get him some votes on Lynch’s language so it could be passed with bipartisan support, but Lynch told him he couldn’t get him any votes on it, O’Brien said.

So let’s get Lynch’s version on the table, vote on it, or move on with a different version, O’Brien’s thinking goes.

While O’Brien appears to be looking to get rid of Lynch’s proposal, Arnesen said she figured Lynch’s proposal would stand the best chance of passing since it’s a little more moderate.

The Coalition Communities is conscious of the politics as well. While it’s not endorsing a specific proposal, Remick said it would seem, given how difficult it could be to pass a constitutional amendment, that the governor’s proposal or perhaps the Senate version would stand the best chance of actually passing at the ballot box.

“Can you get the support you need to pass this in the state if you totally eliminate the courts?” Remick said. “We know that with the governor’s and the Senate’s versions, there still should be some court review, although it is the legislature’s responsibility to draft a funding system for them. It would seem to me that it would be a hard sell to communities on the currently-passed House version, which eliminates any court intervention. We don’t know what a future legislature would do. What if it passes a grievously harmful system where nobody gets any money, not even the poorer towns?”

The buck stops where?

For O’Brien the ideological aspect is key. To him, the country and the state operate as democracies, and courts calling all the shots with regard to a particular government department flies in the face of that.

“Do we have a government democracy that we trust and are we willing to put up with potential mistakes, or do we not trust people at the ballot box?” O’Brien said.

But opponents of an amendment argue that education is a fundamental right and that it shouldn’t be infringed upon by the government regardless of the economic times, in the same way that people wouldn’t want the government to intrude on freedom of speech.

“They want to cloak it in terms like ‘choice’ and ‘local control,’ but really, it’s so the state doesn’t have to contribute a dime,” Arnesen said. “But it’s supposed to make you feel good because you’ve got a choice to do nothing. Aren’t you lucky?”

The Claremont decision fundamentally changed how the state defines and funds primary and secondary education. Up until those decisions, education was a local responsibility, with the legislature having the discretion to target aid to certain programs and to the neediest areas, as it does in other areas, such as the Department of Health and Human Services or the Department of Corrections.

O’Brien wants education treated like other state departments, and he doesn’t understand how it’s appropriate that the Court can remove lawmakers’ ability to use their judgment with regard to education while it is acceptable that the legislature use its judgment with all the other departments. He sees it as picking and choosing when you can have a democracy.

“It’s both illogical and wrong,” O’Brien said. “We live in a democracy, not a judicial oligarchy. If the issue is education funding, we elect representatives to make decisions. If they make bad decisions, than they should be un-elected. … ...It’s called democracy.”

People can argue whether the legislature funded education at appropriate levels prior to the Claremont decisions, O’Brien said. At the local level, city councilors or selectmen make decisions on whether there is enough money to repair sidewalks or to fund projects. If people don’t like their decisions, they vote them out, O’Brien said. He doesn’t see why it should be any different for education.

Leaving an important issue, like education, to judges ? that’s not what the country was ever about, O’Brien said. He’s not arguing the result is perfect all the time, but he is saying it is ideal ? more so than having five judges have all the power, O’Brien said. 

Maybe so, but those against an amendment don’t see the legislature as having, historically, lived up to its end of the bargain.

“The efforts by the legislature to remove the courts is kind of like taking one leg off a three-legged stool,” Greenberg said. “History has shown, every time the legislature has had significant leeway, there’s been a drop in education funding.”

Education is more than just another department in state government. It’s an economic driver: good schools lead to good students, which leads to good companies locating here and hiring good workers who can live and grow right in the state ? a not insignificant reality given the state of New Hampshire’s aging population, Greenberg said.

In the present context, the state constitution regards education as a right, Greenberg said. Londonderry was one of the key litigants in the last education funding lawsuit — so it’s not surprising that Greenberg has some thoughts on the controversy.

“Basically what the court has been saying for years is that there is a sense that education really should have legislative priority,” Greenberg said. “Nobody is saying the state should fund education fully, but they should be doing their fair share for every child in the state.”

If the court checks are off, what’s to stop the legislature from underfunding education, even if it opts for a funding system that fairly and equitably distributes money? In other words, if all the power is with the legislature, opponents of a constitutional amendment say, no matter what the funding scheme for targeting aid ends up being, it will all be on the chopping block when the going gets tough.

“If we look at education not only as a local entity but also as a state driver for economic growth, then the state should play a fair role in funding the schools,” Greenberg said. “It should be in the state’s best interests to attract business and to improve economic interest, to allow young people in this state to be contributors here, rather than fleeing to go to others.”

But O’Brien says New Hampshire, pre- and post-Claremont, has historically had a strong education system. It’s been a local effort, where parents and teachers talked about and decided what was best for children with school board members, O’Brien said.

An imperfect system

One reason to tackle the problem at all is this idea of “adequacy” and how the amount that the state pays for an adequate education for each student differs from the actual cost of an education in districts across the state.

O’Brien said the current system is not a fair interpretation of the Claremont decision, so in essence he’s saying the current system is not in compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling. The ruling required the state to define an adequate education and to fund it, ultimately settling on $3,450 per pupil. Of course, no one thinks $3,450 per pupil is actually the cost of an adequate education.

“I don’t think anyone can go to court and say that’s the case,” O’Brien said.

The current system tries mightily to avoid having donor towns, towns that give more to the system than they receive. So the statewide property tax isn’t achieving anything other than fooling the court, O’Brien said.

“It’s just taking the money out of the left pocket and putting it into the right,” Greenberg said.

O’Brien seems to agree with that assessment, and suggested that the court system would ultimately catch on.

“At some point, the court is going to come to us and say you’re not doing it,” O’Brien said. “We know an adequate education costs three or four times that amount, and you need to start funding it. At that point, we’d need to triple or quadruple the tax as a source of revenue. That’s very robust.”

Even opponents of an amendment would like to see some changes to the current funding system.

“Historically, it’s been up and down and sideways,” Greenberg said. “It makes it difficult to do any kind of planning as far as budgeting is concerned.”

In Manchester, state aid hasn’t always been applied the way it was designed to. In 2008, the state increased its education adequacy grant for Manchester by $8 million. But with the schools getting more state aid, local elected officials effectively level-funded education by reducing the schools’ tax rate to a point where the schools didn’t see any additional funding even though the state was sending Manchester $8 million dollars extra, said Kathy Staub, longtime Manchester education activist and an incoming school board member.

“Think of it as a pie chart,” Staub said. “When the state adequacy section gets bigger, [local officials] reduce the size of the city’s parcel.”

Greenberg doesn’t want to see a constitutional amendment enacted that hands all the power to the legislature, but he doesn’t see the current system as perfect. He’s looking for more long-term stability in funding levels.

Just from a logistical standpoint, the legislature, in planning the state’s two-year budget, often doesn’t finalize its budget numbers until the end of June. By that time, school budgets have already been passed. That’s problematic, since communities are passing school budgets based on estimates. That makes for a lot of explaining after the fact, if state funding ends up falling short of projections.

“It is difficult to explain to citizens why we have to hedge our comments on what the tax impact is,” Greenberg said. “We’re not sure what the revenue will be. That’s where it’s difficult.”

The downshift

During the last legislative session, Greenberg said, lawmakers changed the internal funding formula. That has led to significant concern from a number of communities. The rhetoric coming out of Concord is that the state is putting more money into education, but the reality is that from the last budget to the present, the state is spending $184 million less on education because of changes in the internal workings of the formula, related specifically to Title I students, who are students from low-income families, Greenberg said.

“What you’ve got is variance over time and in not being able to do planning,” Greenberg said.

The state also reduced vocational tuition and transportation money to schools. The state would have cut more but Greenberg said it was pointed out that if lawmakers cut beyond a certain point, the state would lose out on federal money. So lawmakers put enough state funding back in so it wouldn’t lose the federal funding, he said.

Schools can also get additional state aid for special education costs. If a special education student, such as an out-of-district placement, costs more than 3.5 times the statewide average per-pupil cost, the state will reimburse the community 80 percent of anything greater than 3.5 times the statewide average per pupil. This year, the reimbursement rate was dropped to about 60 percent, Greenberg said.

“In essence, what you’ve got is continual downshifting of cost to the local level under the guise of local control,” Greenberg said. “What’s local control — you can choose what you’re not going to do. That becomes an issue in greater context if now you have the potential for a constitutional amendment, voucher bills. All of those will either directly or indirectly have significant financial impacts.”

While O’Brien does want to increase local control, he says he’s not trying to eliminate state government’s role in education. There are some towns, perhaps with less of a property tax base to work with, that need state involvement. That’s what he’s talking about when he says he wants to be able to target aid.

What proponents for an amendment seem to be saying is that they would prefer that state government not have to distribute money to wealthy communities that spend in excess of $14,000 or $15,000 per pupil, while distributing perhaps more money to struggling communities.

The concern for many is that under some funding systems, middle-tier communities, in terms of property tax base, like Londonderry, Merrimack and Rochester, would stand to lose lots of money, with the loss leading to negative impacts on programs and services, Greenberg said. Greenberg is suggesting that wealthier communities could absorb the loss of state aid, while poor communities would still be receiving state aid, perhaps even more than they are now. In that scenario, the concern is that the middle ground of New Hampshire’s communities could be severely impacted, that without sufficient state aid that districts would be forced to cut back on programming.

Greenberg said he believes every child in the state should receive state money. The idea of targeting aid ends up being an excuse not to give to some communities, Greenberg said.

“With less state support, things will not get done,” Greenberg said. “Because the people can’t support it.”
But there will be no shortage of things to get done.

The state and the federal government are probably going to keep asking educators to ramp up requirements and offerings, while also addressing new laws and rules. That’s not a bad thing, but that isn’t free either. Greenberg said he is a big supporter of special education but the federal government has woefully underfunded the area in recent years. He estimated Londonderry, which he said wasn’t unlike other communities, should have been getting another $1 million annually from the federal government for special education programs.

When the government doesn’t provide it, local districts need to find the money somewhere else ? local taxpayers.

And that’s where the concern is for those opposed to a constitutional amendment, that an amendment gives the legislature too much control to shirk their funding obligations in tough times, leaving it up to individual districts to make up the difference. For those opposed to an amendment, education is more than just another department and it shouldn’t be treated as such.

On the other hand, for those in favor of an amendment, having the court system call the shots is in conflict with democracy. To them, it’s all about the voting booth — if you don’t like the decisions elected officials are making, cast your ballot accordingly.

Staub wasn’t sure what would happen to Manchester if a constitutional amendment was passed. Her fear, regardless of whether an amendment is passed or whether a new funding formula was adopted, was simply that Manchester could lose state aid it desperately needs. If the thinking is that education funding should be generated locally, Staub isn’t confident Manchester would step up to the plate. In her mind, the city doesn’t now. She said a third of the city’s education budget comes from state adequacy aid.
“If we start getting less money, I can’t imagine. I try not to think about it,” Staub said. “If we starting getting less than we are right now, what would we do?”

“Instead of a constant obligation ... it’s a crap shoot,” Arnesen said. “If Republicans want to destroy education as we know it, now they have that license. If Democrats want to invest in education, now they have license to do it, but the people can’t do it.”






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