Education Funding Control Eludes N.H. Lawmakers
By Ben Wieder, Staff Writer
A constitutional amendment to give New Hampshire legislators final say on education funding and standards failed in the House yesterday (June 6), in part because legislators said they didn’t trust their peers to adequately fund education in the future.
The plan had been pushed by Republican leaders in the House and Senate and Democratic Governor John Lynch. In a series of decisions known as the Claremont rulings, the state Supreme Court had required that the state provide more funding to districts and reserved the right to essentially oversee the legislature’s decisions on funding levels and education standards.
Although there have been numerous legislative attempts to counteract those rulings, supporters say the amendment that failed Wednesday represented their best chance.
“I don’t think we’re going to get another shot like this,” said Gene Van Loan, a Manchester-based attorney who helped legislators on both sides refine the amendment. “Not for the foreseeable future.”
In order to pass, the amendment needed approval from more than 60 percent of legislators in each chamber and two-thirds of the electorate in November. Senators approved the amendment with more than the required majority, but the amendment failed in two attempts in the House Wednesday.
Despite the support of Lynch, Democrats generally opposed the measure. Before the vote, Democratic Representative Ben Baroody told the Union Leader, “I'm not going to vote for it, because I don't trust this legislature. They ended school building aid.”
Before the first Claremont ruling in December 1993, New Hampshire had the lowest state support for K-12 education of any state in the country, according to Michael Griffiths, senior school finance analyst for the education commission of the states. He says that states with less state funding tend to have equity issues.
“The more reliant you are on local funding,” he said, “the more likely you are to see that separation between haves and have-nots.”
But Van Loan said that the Claremont rulings resulted in more state aid going to wealthier districts who didn’t actually need the funding, and that some fear that without final say over the levels of state funding the state could one day be forced to adopt a state income tax, which it doesn’t currently have.