For the first time in nearly a decade, New Hampshire public schools will soon have access to state funds for new building projects. This money will come from an estimated-$19 million fund—the spoils of a large budget surplus from the 2017 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The grant money will be awarded to schools with critical building needs involving school safety, security, and/or internet connectivity.
A long hiatus for school building funding
This comes as a welcome reprieve for many school districts that have had to rely mostly on local funding since 2009. It was then, in the throes of the Great Recession, that the New Hampshire Legislature approved a moratorium on state funding for new school projects. That moratorium has still not been lifted. Instead, the $19 million will be limited to projects that address an immediate, critical need and that can be paid for in full.
Debt for existing projects
Just before the 2009 moratorium, the School Building Aid program reached an annual cost of $50 million, which included both money for new projects and debt on those that had already been finished. In the years since, lawmakers have chosen to work on paying off old obligations rather than committing money to new construction. At the beginning of 2017 the state still owed nearly $300 million for past projects.
The case for more building aid
Some think that, given the improved economy, it is time to lift the moratorium on the school building aid. This would take pressure off of individual towns to fund expensive renovations and construction on their own. Poorer communities in the state could stand to benefit the most from such a change—many have aging buildings which will only become more expensive to repair in the future.
Others feel that the state’s current approach is the right one, and demonstrates good fiscal sense. By using surplus money from the last budget to fully fund the most urgent projects, the state is taking a measured first step towards solving the problem of aging school infrastructure without adding to the state's debt. Being smart with spending and avoiding new debt is the best way to continue running budget surpluses in the future, which could help pay for more school projects.
What do you think? Should NH lift the 2009 moratorium on state funding for new school projects? Leave us a comment – yes or no, and why – in the section below.