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Lawmakers agree to hold off on education funding constitutional amendment until 2014

Republican and Democratic lawmakers announced yesterday they would shelve until early 2014 a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way New Hampshire schools are funded.

“We agreed to postpone it because we want to get all the stakeholders together . . . so that when we do propose it, it hopefully is ready to go,” said Rep. Gary Richardson, a Hopkinton Democrat who has been working with Republican Sen. Nancy Stiles of Hampton and others on the amendment.

Stiles said Gov. Maggie Hassan, an Exeter Democrat, has agreed to make the education funding amendment a priority following the completion this year of the new state budget.

But Hassan’s office wasn’t ready yesterday to commit to supporting that or any amendment.

“The governor and Sen. Stiles have had productive conversations and agree that this session is not the time to focus on the constitutional amendment on education,” Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg said in an email. “If there is a consensus around a workable education funding solution in the future the governor is willing to be a part of those conversations.”

Stiles and Richardson have been working on the precise language of an amendment that would allow the Legislature more flexibility in targeting state aid to needy districts. But, Stiles said yesterday, the proposal needs more time and the 2013 legislative session is already packed with high-profile issues such as the state budget, expanded gambling and Medicaid expansion.

“I have received personal assurances from Gov. Hassan that this amendment will be a priority of hers upon the completion of the budget and I look forward to working with her, members of her staff and legislators from both parties to introduce an amendment early next year,” Stiles said in a statement. “This timeline will give us enough time to get the language right and the legislature and the public opportunity to focus on and debate this important policy.”

Stiles is the chairwoman of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee in the Senate, where Republicans have a 13-11 majority. Richardson is the Democratic floor leader in the House, where Democrats have a 221-179 majority.

The state Supreme Court’s landmark Claremont decision in the 1990s requires the state to fund an adequate education for all children, regardless of school district. Legislators have made scores of attempts since then to amend the state Constitution, but never with success.

A proposed amendment last year was supported by then-Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, and leaders of the then-Republican-led Legislature. It passed the Senate. But nearly all Democrats and some Republicans opposed the amendment in the House, where it failed to achieve the three-fifths majority needed to go before voters for ratification.

Hassan in the past has said she’d be open to an amendment on education funding, but not one that would absolve the state of its responsibility for education. She opposed the amendment that fell short last year.

A separate education-funding amendment has been filed for this year’s legislative session by Fremont Republican Rep. Dan Itse and is sponsored by several other GOP lawmakers. Itse couldn’t be reached yesterday.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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