After Education Funding Suit Ruling, N.H. School Districts Wait for Answers

Sep 22, 2016

Credit patch.com

The town of Bedford is one of about 40 communities across New Hampshire waiting to hear how the state will respond to the recent education funding lawsuit decision.

A Sullivan County Superior Court judge ruled earlier this month the state’s cap on adequacy grants to fast-growing school districts was unconstitutional.

The city of Dover filed the suit, and was awarded one point five million dollars as reimbursement for the last fiscal year. The ruling also entitled other affected districts to back pay for last year.

Bedford Superintendent Chip McGee says his district lost out on roughly four million dollars in state aid last year.

He says the district is prepared to move forward with legal action, if necessary.

“We have a suit in place that’s pending the Dover decision here in Hillsborough County along the same lines as the Dover case. But that’s all pending the action on the decision in Dover.”

It’s possible the decision could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Here's McGee's full interview with NHPR’s Morning Edition talking about the issue:

Can you explain how this state cap on education aid affected your school district?

It affected us the same way it affected everyone else. There’s a funding formula where a certain amount of dollars are allocated per student. But for districts that are growing, like Dover and Bedford, they had a cap in place. So instead of funding it at the full roughly $3,500 per student, they had to limit that. So in Fiscal Year 2016, that amounted to about $4 million that needed to be made up by taxpayers instead of being funded by the state adequacy grant.

With this ruling now, where do things stand for the district?

So we’re in a wait-and-see mode. We’re going to wait until about mid-October. Hopefully we’ll get past the time when either side can appeal and then be able to work with the state Department of Education on payment, if we can get to that point. But you never know.

Do you think it’s realistic to expect the district will get back all of what it lost last year?

I can’t predict that one. At this point, I have no idea. But I do know that in the Dover case, the decision was for Fiscal Year 2015 and prior to that, when many more districts were affected, all of that is now off the table as a result of this decision.

Is it possible the town could seek legal action if it feels the state’s reimbursement isn’t adequate?

That would be up to the school board, though I can tell you that we’ve taken some action already to make sure that we’re as well situated as possible to make sure that we get all the funds that we’re entitled to.

What action is that?

We have a suit in place that’s pending the Dover decision here in Hillsborough County along the same lines as the Dover case. But that’s all pending the action on the decision in Dover.

Have you talked to other superintendents and districts around the state?

I have. This is something I’ve wanted to simply make sure other districts were aware of. We’ve joined forced in terms of paying attention to what we really see as a general funding issue. This could be set up as a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul situation, and I don’t see it that way. There are districts who receive additional funding through something called a stabilization grant. And those grants are really important for districts that are either losing population or that face other challenges. My hope is that this isn’t a choice between stabilization on the one hand and adequacy on the other. All students have a right to an adequate education and there are also reasons why some districts would need a stabilization grant as we go through a transition in funding.

The district is in a kind of wait-and-see mode. How much does that complicate things in terms of being able to plan ahead?

Right now it’s OK because the decision we hope will be in place, if it’s not appealed, by mid-October or Nov. 1. If it goes past that, we will have to budget what the law says. And that means we’ll have to budget assuming that continuing in Fiscal Year 16 and 17 – the last two years –  we won’t see the full adequate funding.