State lawmakers progress competing school building aid legislation

Plans for a new Concord middle school to be built on raw land next to the Broken Ground and Mill Brook schools was chosen by members of the school board in a 6-3 vote Wednesday night.

Plans for a new Concord middle school to be built on raw land next to the Broken Ground and Mill Brook schools was chosen by members of the school board in a 6-3 vote Wednesday night.

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 03-30-2024 8:00 AM

A bill boosting the state’s school building aid program by introducing a funding minimum and removing its cap passed the New Hampshire House Thursday evening, though it faces tough odds in the Senate.

With designs underway for a new middle school, the Concord School District has hoped the cost to replace Rundlett will be partially covered by an aid package from the state. But the program’s funding future is murky, and the competing House and Senate bills could either help or hurt the district’s chances of getting the $70 million in aid it applied for. 

Currently, the legislature has the option to fund the program — which delivers large aid packages to districts making significant school building renovation or construction — up to $50 million per year. HB 546 would make that number the floor for how much lawmakers have to provide each year, and would also separate past bond obligations and ongoing payments to districts previously awarded aid from programs funding allotment. 

After a more than a decade-long pause, the state reopened applications for building aid in 2022. Proponents of the bill Thursday argued that the additional funding would relieve strains on taxpayers to fund projects that had been put off under the moratorium. 

While the bill would be a boon to districts — Concord in particular — hoping for large aid awards, its future is dim. It was passed in a narrow 182-176 vote almost strictly along party lines — as the House session dragged into the evening, Democrats in attendance in the almost evenly divided house came to outnumber Republicans. In the more decisively Republican Senate, considering its own changes to  school building aid, HB 546 is unlikely to fare well.

SB 432 would phase out the current aid program in favor of one that would make allocations each year from an $80 million sum for each district to set aside in reserve for building projects. The Senate is set to vote on the bill this week, though a committee amendment received a party line 14-10 vote of support in February. 

 Sen. Tim Lang argued in favor of replacing the building aid program by stating that, given the demand for aid after the moratorium, the new model would be more predictable and make some amount of money available to more districts sooner.

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