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What’s the committee studying school funding been up to?

Monitor staff
Published: 6/16/2018 11:57:21 PM

As property-poor communities increasingly discuss launching a suit against the state over education funding, a panel of lawmakers is studying New Hampshire’s formula for doling out money for schools.

The group has been meeting since September and hopes to have a package of recommendations ready when the Legislature reconvenes next year. House Education committee Chairman Rep. Rick Ladd, a Haverhill Republican, wrote the law that created the panel studying the state’s “adequacy” formula, which apportions education aid. And he said he’s sympathetic to communities struggling to cobble budgets together.

“The formula’s broken,” he said. “We’ve got to fix it.”

The current system is based on outdated numbers when it comes to transportation costs, teacher salaries, student-to-staff ratios, and even technology, Ladd said. The committee should also take a look at building aid, which has been on a moratorium for about a decade, and the mechanism it once used to send extra money to districts with extremely small local tax bases.

All told, the amount the state sends to local districts “has to go up,” he said. “The bigger question is: where’s the money come from to support it going up?”

Rep. Glenn Cordelli, a Tuftonboro Republican on the panel, thinks one thing is already off the table: asking property-rich towns to help pay for the cost of educating kids in property-poor communities.

“I don’t think there’s any interest on the committee of going back to the old ‘donor town’ scenario,” he said.

Property-poor communities argue that the current system, which relies heavily on local property taxes, disadvantages their schools, which much levy taxes at a much higher rate in order to raise enough revenue. The result is sky-high taxes and perennial budget cuts.

Cordelli said he was sympathetic to the complaints coming from towns increasingly bullish about suing the state. But only up to a point.

“Sure, I’m sympathetic to those arguments. But I think as we discussed on the education committee this year also, that money is not the answer to all the education problems,” Cordelli said.

Rep. Mel Myler, a Contoocook Democrat on the committee, said he couldn’t say whether the panel would come up with something that could mollify property-poor towns. Doing so would require finding new revenue streams – something he expressed skepticism there was much legislative appetite for.

“Until we begin to look at additional funding coming in, I don’t think there’s going to be – I don’t think it can be addressed adequately. And I’m not sure that’s the will,” he said.

The study committee’s report is due out in November.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)

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