ConVal School District sues state over education funding

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ConVal Regional High School. From the ConVal HS website.

The ConVal School District filed a suit yesterday against the State of New Hampshire, claiming that the $3,636 per student in adequate education grants that state provides is not sufficient to offer children the opportunity for an adequate education.

According to a press release provided by the district, the state does not fund many of the costs required by state law:

“The Complaint lays out, using the State’s own formula and the State’s own data, how the State’s base adequacy funding falls far short of constitutionally sufficient funding for the children of either the ConVal School District or New Hampshire. The State’s current funding of only $3,636.06 per child does not fund the actual transportation costs incurred by districts, does not apply the actual teacher-student ratios, does not accurately reflect the actual benefits required by the State, does not provide any funding for school nurses, superintendent services, or food services as required by state law and provides less than 20% of the actual statewide average facilities operations and maintenance costs. The current proposed legislation does little to provide permanent, guaranteed adequacy and while it may provide temporary relief to some communities, it is not a permanent solution to an ongoing problem.”

A Constitutional Obligation to Fund Education

The Supreme Court has determined that the state is responsible for paying for an adequate education for all children in New Hampshire. But according to ConVal School District, the district can’t provide an adequate education with the $3,636 in state funding per student without relying on local property taxes:

“Twenty-six years ago, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire, in the landmark Claremont decision, determined that it is a State obligation to ensure a constitutionally adequate education for New Hampshire children. Subsequent decisions by the Court also determined that the State cannot shift that responsibility to the local communities.”

“The State has and intends to continue violating Part II, Article 5 of the New Hampshire Constitution by funding a constitutionally adequate education in some communities but not in others leading to higher education tax rates in different parts of the State,” according to the complaint.

The Cost of an Adequate Education

The state provides a base adequate education grant of $3,636 per student in 2019, plus differentiated aid for qualifying students. A legislative commission in 2008 calculated the figure by costing out the bare minimum education requirements–including teachers, administration, and some technology. State law also requires school districts to have school nurses, superintendents, and food services–which are not included in the formula.

According to the lawsuit, the cost of an adequate education using the state’s requirements would be $10,843.60 per student. To pay for an adequate education, the state would need to provide ConVal School District with $22,164,318.40 ($10,843.60 x 2,044 students).

In 2019, the state provided ConVal with $7,432,106.64 ($3,636.06 x 2,044 students) in state aid, resulting in a $14.7 million shortfall that would have to be made up by property taxpayers. This $7,432,106.64 figure does not include differentiated aid (additional funds for students qualifying for Free or Reduced Lunch, special education students, English Language Learners, or third graders not proficient in reading) or stabilization grants.

“Regrettably, the Legislature to date has been unable to provide adequate funding to the local communities so that all children in New Hampshire receive a fair and equitable education, forcing local taxpayers to choose between supporting the children in their communities and being overwhelmed by increasing local taxes,” according to the press release.

The lawsuit names both Governor Sununu and Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut in their official and individual capacities.

Reaching Higher NH will continue to provide updates on Contoocook Valley School District, et al v State of New Hampshire, et al. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter or sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest developments!