Mixed reactions among educators regarding governor’s budget

  • Gov. Chris Sununu speaks to legislators during his budget address at the State House in Concord on Thursday. Sununu presented his plan for the next two-year state budget, kicking off a months-long legislative process of perfecting the state’s plan for how to spend its money. AP

Monitor staff
Published: 2/12/2017 12:09:24 AM

Many in the New Hampshire education world met Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget proposal this week with mixed reactions, calling some items – like targeted funds for full-day kindergarten – encouraging, but not quite what they had hoped for.

“There are certainly some items that seem quite positive, including full-day kindergarten aid and a new scholarship for high school graduates attending a (New Hampshire) college or university,” Carl Ladd, the executive director of the N.H. School Administrators’ Association, wrote in an email.

“I am disappointed that the kindergarten aid is being targeted rather than fairly distributed to all communities that have made the commitment for full-day (kindergarten),” he added.

The new Republican governor mostly made good on a campaign promise to back full-day kindergarten, proposing $9 million annually in the state’s budget for districts who offer full-day programs. But based on last year’s enrollment numbers, giving full adequacy payments to the districts who already offer full-day kindergarten would cost an extra $14.5 million a year. Sununu said he wants to target funds to poorer districts, but how exactly districts would qualify will be revealed in more detailed proposals to come.

Likewise, leaders of the state’s public higher education institutions said they were glad for the extra dollars Sununu will allocate to schooling after high school, but expressed dissatisfaction with just how much the governor is offering.

Sununu has announced a $5 million annual scholarship program for 1,000 students who stay in the state after high school. But he has also proposed flat-funding the state’s university system, whose leaders had asked for about $20 million in new money over two years in exchange for an in-state tuition freeze and new scholarships.

University System of New Hampshire officials expressed “deep disappointment” about the governor’s budget in a statement, and said it wouldn’t be enough to freeze tuition.

New Hampshire generally ranks at the bottom nationally for state aid to public higher education, and typically has the highest in-state tuition rates in the country. At about $81 million in annual state aid, the university system gets less per year then they did pre-recession.

Community colleges fared a little bit better in the governor’s budget, with $10 million in new money for capital investments and $6 million extra over the biennium for their operating budget. But Community College System of New Hampshire officials had asked for more than twice that, and also offered tuition freezes and a reduction in return.

“While the $6 (million) does not get us to a level that would enable a tuition freeze or reduction, we recognize it’s early in the process and look forward to continuing to work over the next several months as the process moves forward,” community colleges spokeswoman Shannon Reid wrote in an email.

Sununu also announced his budget would provide new dollars to school building projects, although exactly how much money will actually be available for projects remains to be unseen.

The governor hasn’t earmarked a specific dollar amount for school building aid – a program on hold for nearly a decade – but instead designated renovating schools with health and safety problems a high priority for the Infrastructure Revitalization Fund, which is fed from the state’s surplus funds. Right now, the fund has about $84 million in it, but that could change, and schools will compete with road and bridge projects for the money.

“The project and dollar amounts will be identified in consultation with the Legislature and based on available funds,” Sununu’s budget director, Charlie Arlinghaus, wrote in an email.

The governor’s budget fully funds the adequacy formula as-is, but doesn’t include new money to help towns seeing reductions to their stabilization grants.

Stabilization grants are extra state funds provided to mostly property-poor and high-poverty school districts. The program, which in some cases accounts for half a district’s state aid, is being sunsetted via a 4-percent annual reduction. The House Education Committee this week tabled for a year a bill that would have frozen the cuts, with its chairman saying the committee was curious to see what the governor and House finance committee had in mind.

One group is likely to unequivocally cheer the governor’s budget – charter school advocates.

Sununu’s budget allocates an extra $15 million to charters, an amount that would fully fund a bill currently winding its way through the Legislature that would to tie state aid to charters to per-pupil spending in public schools. House Bill 584 would calculate state aid to charters by giving them, per student, 55 percent of whatever the per-pupil spending is in public schools.

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




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