Home > Uncategorized > Same As It Ever Was: Study Shows NH Public School Funding is Inequitable and Insufficient… but DOESN’T Recommend Realistic Fix

Same As It Ever Was: Study Shows NH Public School Funding is Inequitable and Insufficient… but DOESN’T Recommend Realistic Fix

December 2, 2020

The headline in our local newspaper of the most prominent front page article, above-the-fold-on-the-right, reads “Panel Calls for School Funding Overhaul”. The article described the work of a “Commission to Study School Funding” created to address the longstanding issue of funding inequities in New Hampshire as described in the opening paragraphs of the article:

The story of New Hampshire’s education funding system has for decades been a tale of two types of towns — the “property-rich” towns, with wealthy tax bases and high property values that can generously fund their public schools, and the “property-poor” towns who struggle to provide even basic funding without a deep tax base.

Property-rich towns typically have better facilities, higher teacher pay, and in many cases, better educational outcomes while everyone’s taxes remain relatively low. In the property-poor towns, facility upgrades languish, staff turnover is more rapid, and property taxes are disproportionately high. Despite multiple state Supreme Court rulings ordering it to be fixed and three statewide commissions to recommend a way out, the divide perpetuates.

I foolishly hoped upon reading the headline that the panel might come up with recommendations that included a demand for substantially more funding and suggest a new method for redistributing those funds in a fair and equitable fashion. They suggested neither. Instead… here was the synopsis of the report:

“For New Hampshire to meet its constitutional responsibilities where all students have an equal opportunity to an adequate education, its state aid distribution formula needs to be altered,” state Sen. Jay Kahn, a member of the commission said in a press conference Tuesday.

Anyone who is associated with New Hampshire public education knew that before even reading the article… they knew this was true in 1983 when I was first hired to lead a school district in New Hampshire and, in all probability, knew it well before then. The “solution” they proposed appears to be a warmed over version of a “donor town” system that was formally abandoned in 2011 though the elements of redistribution originally envisioned were vestigal by that time. As Superintendent of a so-called “donor town” we lost none of our funding to other districts, making the designation essentially meaningless when we developed our budget. I was told that for a brief period of time before 2004 SOME of the funds we raised through local property taxes in our town were “sent to Concord” and distributed to other districts… but because our town wasn’t THAT rich we were able to get all of the funding back.

Much was made about the fact that “an outside group” took a look at the funding this time. Their conclusion, which cost $500,000 to secure was summarized in this paragraph:

“Using 10 years of Department of Education data, we were able to demonstrate and explain what the harm is to districts who spend less and have students with various needs that don’t get met at the same level as they do in other districts,” Kahn said.

No one argued that reality… nor would anyone argue the other anodyne recommendation set forth by the panel: “an increase in “adequacy grants” for underfunded school districts as well as direct property tax relief efforts for town residents.” Inadequate and inadequate funding is a part of the landscape in NH as much as the White Mountains are… and leveling the funding appears to be as difficult as it would be to level those peaks.

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