Amendment will just raise property taxes

Last modified: 6/5/2012 12:00:00 AM
There are some people who believe the New Hampshire Supreme Court was right when it ruled that the state government is obligated to provide all children in the state with an adequate education, regardless of where they live. Count us among them.

There are some who believe the court was wrong - that the Legislature should be able to divvy up school aid according to its wishes, giving more money to some students and less to others, based on financial need or geography or (dare we say it?) politics.

And then there are those who apparently believe the Legislature deserves total discretion over the very amount the state will contribute to local schools. This year, it could be $600 million. Next year? A little more, a little less. After that? Maybe state lawmakers will see no choice but cutting state aid in half. Sorry, school districts - times are tough!

If that sounds far-fetched, just ask officials from the state university system, who saw their financial contribution from Concord cut by 50 percent last spring. Without the Supreme Court looking over their shoulders, politicians at the State House were free to ax university spending dramatically. Not so with public K-12 schools. At least not yet.

And that's where the latest proposed constitutional amendment on school funding comes in. Proponents - including the Republican leaders of the House and Senate as well as Democratic Gov. John Lynch - want voters to pay attention to the notion of "targeting." They say the amendment will allow the state to use its finite resources smartly: giving money to the districts that need it and letting others fend for themselves. But the amendment would also allow legislators to shrink state aid dramatically - perhaps completely. Note the wording: The Legislature "shall have the full power and authority . . . to determine the amount of . . . state funding for public education."

That sure doesn't leave much room for aggrieved parents or students to appeal to the judiciary.

And when state aid shrinks, the regressive local property tax will inevitably rise to make up the difference - as usual, hurting most those who can least afford to pay.

The 2011-12 Legislature provides the perfect cautionary tale for voters who might be inclined to support such a measure. The current Legislature has shown itself to be peculiarly hostile toward public education. Its members would give businesses a tax break if they contributed money to help kids go to private schools. They have proposed measures to let students opt out of any lessons their parents find objectionable. They have participated in a ludicrous demonization of the International Baccalaureate program, now used in the Merrimack Valley School District, among others. And with Speaker Bill O'Brien promising to chop another $400 million from the state budget next year, it's not hard to imagine the public schools will be among his targets. After all, that's where the money is.

The current per-pupil aid formula is already far lower than what it takes to truly provide an "adequate" education. Would you now trust this group to do right by New Hampshire students with virtually no check on its power?

A vote for this constitutional amendment is a vote to increase local property taxes. When it comes before legislators this week, they should vote no. If not, it will be up to voters in November to shoot it down, making clear that they do indeed want lawmakers who embrace the responsibility of providing an education to each and every one of New Hampshire's schoolchildren.

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