Handful of Bills Seeks Changes to State's Education Funding System

Jan 24, 2017

New Hampshire lawmakers heard several bills Tuesday aimed at retooling how the state pays for public education. 

The House Education Committee considered a handful of measures Tuesday with the overriding theme being that the state is not paying its fair share in public education costs.

One of the bills would reimburse cities and towns shortchanged by a cap the legislature put on the amount of money school districts can get each year. In a case filed by the Dover School District, a judge ruled that cap unconstitutional back in September.

Rep. David Bates of Windham told lawmakers during the hearing that this ruling applies to all communities that were underfunded because of this cap.

“The Attorney General agreed that whatever the results of this lawsuit turned out to be would accrue to the benefit of all the other cities and towns who were similarly situated who were being underfunded because of the cap,” Bates testified, who's town lost nearly $3 million due to this cap.

The bill calls for roughly $9 million to be dispersed before the close of the fiscal year. If passed, towns such as Bedford, Grantham and Stratham will see some of the biggest checks. 

One of the major stumbling blocks addressed during the public hearing was how to pay for it. Something Rep. Bates says is irrelevant as the state has a "constitutional obligation" to pay these districts.  

Another bill heard by the committee Tuesday aims to block a reduction in aid to mostly low-income towns that are set to receive less money starting next year due to declining enrollment. In some cases, these so-called stabilization grants amount to half of the district's budget. Officials from Claremont, Berlin and Franklin testified Tuesday, stressing that these reductions would result in further cuts in staff, programs and building improvements. 

Most of the committee members who spoke during the hearing were in favor of the measure, with the chair, Rep. Rick Ladd, stressing to the packed room who came out and testified to make sure to show up when the bill reaches the House Finance Committee.