Freezes stabilization grants for school districts that would otherwise receive less per-pupil school funding from the state. Starting in fiscal year 2020, municipalities would receive the 2012 stabilization grant every year.
School Funding: Constitutional Amendment
For more than thirty years, states across the country have faced lawsuits intended to force additional state spending in particular school districts. The 1971 Serrano case in California led to waves of lawsuits across the country after the California Supreme Court ruled that the level of financial disparity between districts was unacceptable.
NH education funding court cases: the Claremont rulings
The recent history of education funding in New Hampshire is a history of court cases. New Hampshire saw its own series of lawsuits but the current debate began after the 1993 Claremont lawsuit decided that the New Hampshire Constitution established a state duty to provide an adequate education and to guarantee funding. It was followed by the landmark December 1997 Claremont II ruling.
The precise meaning of the second Claremont ruling and what it allows the legislature to do or prohibits it from doing has been at the heart of the recent debate over education funding.
In essence, the ruling seems to require that the state define some level of education called adequate and pay for that level with state raised tax dollars. To the extent that it delegates responsibility, those responsibilities must still be paid for with state tax dollars not local tax dollars.
For many years, state aid to education has not been one program but a series of programs including special education aid, aid for building construction, partial aid for the town's share of the retirement contribution for teachers, and a general category of aid based to some extent on the financial need of each town.
The Legislature's initial response to the 1997 lawsuit was legislation that changed the financial need category—also known as "foundation aid"—to a new formula commonly known as "adequacy aid." It increased the total state aid for schools from about $150 million to $875 million.
Half of this state aid came from the controversial new statewide property tax. Under this mechanism, a portion of local property taxes are renamed state taxes but spent locally and counted as state aid.
The new law also increased taxes on businesses, tobacco, rental cars, and real estate sales by a total of $195 million, the largest tax increase in New Hampshire history up until that time.
It was hoped the new spending would allow poorer communities to spend more on their education needs and also to reduce the property tax burden on poorer communities. The 2005 study "Dollars Diverted: Taking a Hard Look at Education Finance Reform in New Hampshire," found that the increased aid was being spent on non-educational functions or being spent by the richest towns that least needed help.
In terms of property relief, the NH Center for Public Policy Studies found that total property taxes decreased statewide by about $150 million the first year of the new funding, the only decrease in the recent history of the state. However, after the initial decrease, taxes continued to rise by more than $600 million over the next four years - a greater increase in four years than in the nine years prior to the reform.
The initial plan and all subsequent revisions created a formula which identified an amount of state obligation for each town. Most of the formulas have included cost factors and also the relative fiscal capacity of a town. The more recent Londonderry case clarified the series of "Claremont" rulings to forbid the Legislature from considering a town's relative wealth in the initial part of state aid.
The current financing mechanism for state aid includes the statewide property tax mentioned above. It is implemented as follows: the state calculates the amount that would be raised in a town if a tax were assessed at a rate that would raise $363 million statewide and then deducts that amount from the amount of aid a town would otherwise receive. In the first years of the new system, a small number of towns had a high enough property value that it exceeded their aid level. Known as "donor towns," they received no state aid and were required to send a check to the state. Rising property values allowed the law to be adjusted so a lower property tax rate left no donor towns for the time being.
These mechanisms have moved the state's funding from under $100 million to around $1 billion per year. In 2007-2008, school districts raised about $2.5 billion with about 40% coming from the state and 54% from local taxation.
Another proposed solution is a constitutional amendment that will take the school funding matter out of the hands of the courts and into the Legislature. Every governor holding office after the Claremont II decisions recommended such an amendment, yet no amendment has made it out of the Legislature and onto the ballot for citizens to decide.
In 2008, the Legislature passed an education funding bill designed to comply with the recent Supreme Court decisions. The bill provided $3,450 for every student in the state and provided additional aid for students that receive free lunch and those in special education programs. The bill was criticized on the grounds that it reduced state aid to the poorest communities and increased it to the richer ones. Supporters argued that the change was required to comply with the court. That reality led the Legislature to consider, but ultimately reject, a more limited amendment to the constitution.
On July 13, 2011, Gov. John Lynch signed legislation that resets the formula for school aid funding. HB 337 is described as "an act amending the calculation and distribution of adequate education grants, repealing fiscal capacity disparity aid, and providing stabilization grants to certain municipalities."
Starting in 2014, no community will get a school aid increase of more than 5.5 percent a year. The bill also eliminates a requirement for property-rich communities to help poorer communities with their education costs.
On Feb. 15, 2012, the Senate Internal Affairs Committee passed CACR 12 with an amendment. CACR 12 was designed to give the Legislature "the full power and authority and the responsibility to define standards for public education, establish standards of accountability, mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity, (and the) full power and authority to determine the amount of state funding for public education." The proposal had passed in the House Special Committee on Education Funding Reform in March 2011. CACR 12 ultimately did not get the 3/5ths majority needed to get the amendment on the ballot.
PROS & CONS
"New Hampshire should pass a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature more control over the distribution of school funding."
The Legislature is better suited to deal with education funding than the courts:
- New Hampshire citizens are better off with legislative involvement in education funding, since judges and courts are not elected, and hence are nonresponsive to the citizens of the state.
State funding of education will result in less funding for education:
- A study by Brian Gottlob, prepared for The Committee for Sensible School Funding, compared the state and local fiscal trends across the United States relating to education funding. The result was that increasing a state's share of education funding results in larger per-capita tax increases on the state and local level. In addition, over the long term, per-pupil expenditures grow more slowly in states that provide a larger share of education funding. The result can be fewer dollars available for popular expenditures that increase classroom resources, reduce class sizes or increase teacher salaries, and this result occurs in states of all sizes, regardless of the source of state revenue.
Funding education at the state level results in poor performance:
- The court is insisting on centralizing school funding at the state level. There is very little debate about the effect on school performance in states that have gone this route: it is almost all negative. See Prof. William Fischel of Dartmouth.
Education funding is best left at the local level:
- The strength of local property taxes is that they are a local investment and relate directly to the increase or decrease in the value of homes in the community. Not only do citizens see clearly where the money ends up, but improvements to the schools or the town are reflected in the value of the asset being taxed. Good schools, roads, and economic development all have an impact on the value of the taxpayer's home. This argument is based on research by Prof. William Fischel of Dartmouth.
Targeted aid to needy communities is what is necessary:
- The court's actions effectively prohibit targeting state education aid to the neediest communities. The Legislature will always have limited resources and they should be sent first where they are needed most. Not considering a town's relative wealth is as irrational as requiring the government to send welfare payment to millionaires.
The court's action is not legal:
- The court overstepped its authority and is legislating. Because the constitution merely says that the Legislature has a duty to cherish "all seminaries and public schools," their interpretation is way over the top.
"New Hampshire should not pass a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature more control over the distribution of school funding."
The Legislature cannot be relied upon:
- The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to define the cost of an adequate education and reduce town-by-town funding differences in schools. Prior to the Court's involvement this never happened.
Targeted aid is not reliable and creates problems:
- Targeted aid depends upon state revenues that will change with economic times. Without judicial oversight the state government will reduce targeted aid during difficult financial times.The towns receiving targeted aid will become differentiated from other New Hampshire towns, making residents feel stigmatized.
Something must change:
- The current method of funding education is not fair. It places a much greater burden on poorer communities and on poorer families than it should, and only the state can rectify this problem. Without the court involvement, the Legislature will revert to "targeted aid", which has failed to correct the in balance in the past.
Changes the calculation of the statewide education property tax, from whatever level necessary to reach $363 million, to whatever level equal to $7,500 per student. The bill also changes how students are counted in each district, for example to include homeschool students. Lastly, this bill allows school boards to contract with religious schools - not just nonsectarian private schools - to provide education.
Revises stabilization grants, so that every year towns will get a grant equal to the difference between fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2020 school funding from the state. The Senate amended the bill so that starting in 2020, stabilization grants will return to their original, 2012 levels.
Freezes stabilization grants for school districts that would otherwise receive less per-pupil school funding from the state. Starting in fiscal year 2020, municipalities would receive the 2018 stabilization grant every year. The House amended the bill to restore stabilization funds back to 2016 levels.
Increases the base per-pupil state funding from $3,561.27 to $9,929.00. The bill also adds extra per-pupil funding for a district's transportation costs. The Department of Education estimates this would increase state costs for local funding by roughly $1.1 billion a year.
Increases the base per-pupil state funding to $3,709. The bill further increases per-pupil aid for students eligible for free or reduced lunch, ranging from $1,854 to $5,563, with more for schools with a higher percentage of low income students. The bill then creates "fiscal disparity aid" for districts with low local property tax revenue. To help pay for state aid to less wealthy districts, this bill requires some districts to pay "excess education property tax payments" to the state. The bill states no municipality will ever see a decrease in state education funding, and repeals the stabilization grant system currently used to limit funding decreases. Lastly, the bill revises the transportation requirement for pupils, for example to require mandatory transportation for kindergarten through grade 8, rather than grades 1 through 8, for students who live more than two miles from school. The House amended the bill to remove the overall increase in base per-pupil funding, the requirement to pay "excess education property tax payments" to the state, and the revised transportation requirements.
Increases the base per-pupil state funding from $3,561.27 to a range of $4,900 to $7,000, depending on the size of the municipality. Larger municipalities would receive lower per-pupil funding. The bill makes no significant changes to per-pupil aid for students eligible for free or reduced lunch, English language learners, and special education students; the bill eliminates extra aid for third grade students scoring below proficient in reading on statewide standardized tests. ˙This bill increases the biennial adjustment in per-pupil funding based on the consumer price index. The bill repeals the stabilization grant system that currently provides additional funding to some towns with that would otherwise see funding decreases. The bill also eliminates extra per-pupil funding for charter schools, although those schools would be eligible for the same increased base per-pupil funding as all other schools determined using charter school enrollment.
Increases the base per-pupil state funding to $3,897. The bill further increases per-pupil aid for students eligible for free or reduced lunch; the bill eliminates extra aid for third grade students scoring below proficient in reading on statewide standardized tests. ˙The bill repeals the stabilization grant system currently used to limit funding decreases, and creates a new grant program for districts with low local property tax revenue. Lastly, this bill revises transportation requirements for pupils to give districts more flexibility. The House amended the bill to remove all of the details related to school funding. As amended, the bill only provides more flexibility in school district transportation requirements.
Suspends the 4% annual decrease in stabilization grants for two years. Those grants limit funding decreases in a school district.
Extends the interest and dividends tax to capital gains and increases the exemptions and filing thresholds for the interest and dividends tax. This bill then increases the base per-pupil state funding from $3,561.27 to $4,500.˙The bill eliminates extra aid for third grade students scoring below proficient in reading on statewide standardized tests. Lastly, the bill increases some stabilization grants for schools. The House amended the bill to only increase the base per-pupil state funding to $4,000. The House amendment also provides for a decrease in statewide property taxes.
Repeals the statewide education property tax, which is required to raise $363 million a year, and instead directs the state to send $363 million from the general fund of all tax revenue to education funding.
Establishes a commission to study school funding.
Requires municipalities to return any Statewide Education Property Tax to the state that exceeds the calculated cost of an adequate education.
Provides an additional grant to municipalities equivalent to the scheduled 4% reduction in school funding stabilization grants, essentially suspending the stabilization grant reductions for one year.
Appropriates roughly $9 million from the Education Trust Fund for additional school funding for certain districts which may have been short-changed under the previous school funding formula.
Increases the state school funding per pupil by $30, from $3,561.27 to $3,591.27. The bill was amended to instead establish one committee to study education funding and the cost of an opportunity for an adequate education, and another committee to study the structure and duties of the Department of Education.
States that any policy or funding decision from the Legislature regarding adequate public education is not subject to review by any court.
Appropriates roughly $9 million from the Education Trust Fund for additional school funding for certain districts in fiscal year 2018. Those districts include Bedford, Grantham, Windham, etc.
Makes many changes to the formula for state school funding.
Limits the jurisdiction of the superior courts over certain adequate education statutes and adequate education grants.
Constitutional amendment that gives the Legislature more control over school funding and education standards. The amendment states, "the General Court shall have the authority and full discretion to define reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education, to establish reasonable standards of accountability therefor, and to mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity. Further, in the exercise thereof, the General Court shall have full discretion to determine the amount of, and methods of raising and distributing, State funding for education."
Removes the gradual reduction in stabilization grants for school funding. Stabilization grants kept state school funding level for school districts with falling enrollment.
Increases per pupil school funding from the state, adds per pupil funding for exceptional student programs, establishes fiscal disparity aid, and repeals stabilization grants (which keep funding level for schools that are losing students).
Requires all moneys from the state lottery to be distributed to all K-12 schools on a per pupil basis to pay for teachers' salaries.
Repeals the cap on state funding for education in fast growing towns.
Constitutional amendment giving the legislature more power over state education funding. States: "In fulfillment of the provisions with respect to education set forth in Part II, Article 83, the Legislature shall have the responsibility to maintain a system of public elementary and secondary education and to mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity. In furtherance thereof, the Legislature shall have the full power and authority to make reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education and standards of accountability and to determine the amount of, and the methods of raising and distributing, state funding for public education."
Provides an additional $675 in state education funding per pupil who does not test at the proficient level or above in the math portion of the state assessment.
Exempts a resident from school district property taxes if he or she has resided in New Hampshire for at least 36 consecutive years.
Increases education grants for municipalities, increases funding for pupils attending full-day kindergarten programs, and decreases stabilization grants to municipalities which have less than the state average number of pupils receiving a free or reduced price lunch. The Department of Education estimates this bill will increase state education trust fund expenditures and local revenues by $2,105,715 in 2016.
Makes several changes to the law governing the distribution of state funds to schools. For example, this bill eliminates the stabilization grants that keep school funding level for schools with declining enrollment.
Makes various changes to the method of calculating, distributing, and reporting education grants to municipalities, and repeals the provisions relating to differentiated aid.
Uses tobacco tax and tobacco settlement funds to reduce the education property tax.
Makes various changes to the laws governing the statewide education property tax. In particular, this bill establishes the rate of the statewide education tax at $8 per 1,000 of the value of taxable property and transfers the authority to collect the education property tax from the municipalities to the Department of Revenue Administration. This bill establishes a homestead exemption from the education property tax for the first $250,000 of assessed value of homestead property. The bill also requires an annual transfer of $150,000,000 from the education trust fund to the general fund.
Dedicates $600,000 to charter school maintenance and repair.
Allows schools to advertise.
Establishes a committee to study fiscal disparities between school districts.
Requires use of the most recent equalized property valuation when property value is used to apportion expenses in cooperative and multi-town school districts.
Requires the state to increase aid for school construction and renovations to at least $50,000,000 per year, and moves the authority to grant that aid from the Department of Education to the Board of Education (an unpaid board of appointees).
Applies to communities that lack their own public school but pay tuition to a public school in another town. If such a community has a charter school, this bill requires that community to pay the charter school tuition for every student that attends the charter school.
Repeals the education tax credit program, in which businesses receive tax breaks for contributing to a scholarship fund for low income students that wish to attend private school.
Establishes a tax credit for businesses that contribute to a scholarship fund for students who wish to attend private, parochial, or home schools.
Constitutional amendment giving the legislature "the full power and authority and the responsibility" to define public education standards, improve local disparities in education, and allocate funding for public education.
Exempts parents from the education property tax if their children are not enrolled in public school.
Amends the calculation and distribution of adequate education grants, repealing fiscal capacity disparity aid, and providing stabilization grants to certain municipalities. Starting in 2014 no community would get a school aid increase of more than 5.5% per year. This bill also eliminates a requirement for property-rich communities to help poorer communities with their education costs.
Should NH pass a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature more control over the distribution of school funding?
A superior court judge has ruled the state is failing to fulfill its obligation to provide students an adequate education. The court charged legislators with better defining what an adequate education looks like, figuring out what it reasonably costs, and then finding a fair way to pay for that. It did not, however, grant struggling school districts the immediate financial relief they were looking for. Read the court order.
More funding for schools was included in the state budget, but that was vetoed by Gov. Sununu and is now entangled in negotiations.
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