Our New Hampshire Senate Finance Committee is finalizing their work on the state’s budget for the upcoming two years. This Committee will then make recommendations to the full Senate for action.
One issue that has been raised many times in the budget development process since the early part of the year is school funding. Our New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that our New Hampshire Constitution places the responsibility for public education on the state, not on local communities. However, the legislature has not addressed this critical issue.
A three-pronged solution is under consideration:
- Stabilization Grants: Stabilization grants were put in a number of years ago to support property-poor school districts like Pittsfield. However, in 2016, the state legislature voted to reduce the stabilization grants by 4% each year for 25 years. This has resulted in less state support for property-poor districts with no reduction for property-wealthy districts. The reinstatement of Stabilization Grants to the 2016 level is important.
- Adequacy Grants: The state has determined a cost of an “adequate” education; the state’s calculation actually pegs “adequacy” at about 25% of the actual average per pupil cost in the state. The increase of adequacy to a realistic amount is essential.
- Independent Commission: Despite the conclusion of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, our state legislature has ignored their responsibility to pay for public education. The legislature has made feeble attempts to adjust funding for years, but has consistently fallen short. The funding of an independent – not political – commission to figure out a fair plan is critical in the long term.
Pittsfield’s ten-year budget history:
- Fewer than 600 students
- Average loss of less than 3 students/year
- Flat budget: increase of 3.5% over 10 years (v. 14% inflation rate)
- Net average loss of one teacher per year
- Loss of programs for student support: ELO’s, support for struggling students, foreign language, wood shop, class size increases
- Decline of local property valuation
- Valuation per student at less than $500,000/student, one of state’s lowest
- Was at 60% of state average; now 45% of state average
- Decline of overall valuation of all Pittsfield properties
- Over the ten years, local education property tax rate increase by 48%
A bad and worsening situation for both students and taxpayers:
- For students, less support, fewer options, watering down of academic programs
- For taxpayers, pay more and get less
Fair funding needs:
- Stabilization Grants
- $87,000/year annual loss for Pittsfield
- Over 25 years, if Pittsfield taxpayers make up the difference: equivalence of $8.33/thousand on local tax rate to make up
- Over 25 years, if Pittsfield taxpayers don’t make up the difference: loss of more than one teacher per year or an eventual reduction of 40% of current staff
- At the same time, no reduction to wealthy districts
- $3708/student is less than 25% of state average per pupil cost
- Some have accused districts of spending for bells and whistles when they spend more than the adequacy grants; we all know this is completely absurd
- If Pittsfield were to spend adequacy only and retain current staff and programs, the district would run out of money before Christmas
- Independent Commission
- Current system leads to diminishing benefits to students while local property taxes mushroom
- Pittsfield will remain non-competitive in recruiting teachers:
- Pittsfield is 75% of average for starting and average teacher salaries
- Pittsfield will remain non-competitive in retaining teachers:
- A recent loss of a teacher: down Rte. 28 to Epsom for a 50% salary increase: from $40K to $60K/year
- Special education costs are particularly overwhelming
- 1200 accounts (special education), which don’t include related services or transportation: 10-year increase from 8% of total budget to 23%
A group of Pittsfield residents have organized a petition drive to seek fairness in school funding. The petition reads: We the people of New Hampshire request that the New Hampshire State Legislature and Governor fulfill their constitutional obligation to fund an adequate education for our public-school students throughout the state by taxes that are proportional and reasonable as required by the NH Constitution.
If interested, the petition can be found here: https://www.thepetitionsite.com/173/304/364/demand-fair-and-adequate-funding-for-schools/