BREAKING NEWS: Court finds school funding formula unconstitutional

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ConVal Regional High School. From the ConVal HS website.

The Cheshire County Court issued a ruling on June 5, 2019 on the lawsuit brought forth by Contoocook Valley (ConVal), Monadnock, Winchester, and Mascenic School Districts over the amount that the state provides in state funding for our schools.

The Court ruled that the school funding formula, which currently awards $3,700 per student plus differentiated aid, is “unconstitutional as applied to the Petitioning school districts”:

Because of the dearth of evidence in the legislative record to support such a determination, the Court finds RSA 198:40-a,II(a)—which is essentially the gateway to an adequate education in New Hampshire—unconstitutional as applied to the Petitioning school districts.

ConVal School District issued a press release explaining the ruling:

The Court’s findings were consistent with our assertion that the present levels of funding for public education in the State of New Hampshire are unconstitutional…  

In particular, the Court held that the State was unconstitutionally failing to fully fund transportation costs for all students, unconstitutionally failing to fully fund facilities costs and unconstitutionally failing to fund the costs of teachers at proper teacher student ratios…

The Court also found that the funding formula was “not only unsupported by the legislative record but [is] clearly or demonstratively inadequate according to the Legislature’s own definition of an adequate education.”

In their lawsuit, they requested $21.5 million in immediate monetary relief from the state, to adjust for the actual cost of providing an opportunity for an adequate education. The Court did not award those funds, saying that determining that figure is the responsibility of the legislature:

As discussed below, the Court stops short of picking its own number as the appropriate cost for an adequate education—at this point. The impact of the Petitioners’ request on the State budget is approximately a $1.6 billion increase. Such a decision should not rest in the hands of judges. However, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly warned in school funding cases: constitutional rights must be enforced or they cease to exist. Almost every constitutional challenge to the Legislature’s attempts to define and provide funding for an adequate education has been successful. It has been more than twenty-five years since the New Hampshire Supreme Court first instructed the Legislature to comply with its exclusive obligation to define and provide funding for an adequate education. As explained below, in this Court’s judgment, the Legislature is not there yet.

The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence. It requires no particular constitutional expertise to recognize the capriciousness of such a system.

“We are gratified by the Court’s recognition that the State of New Hampshire is failing to meet its Constitutional obligation to provide for an adequate education for every child,” ConVal School Board vice chair Rich Cahoon said in a statement to Reaching Higher NH after the ruling.

On March 13, 2019, the ConVal School District filed a suit with the Cheshire County Superior Court 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.

A few weeks later, the Monadnock Regional and Winchester School Districts joined the lawsuit.

“It’s time to take some action to hold New Hampshire accountable for providing an adequate education – to provide the funding for it… We’ve done the waiting and seeing for legislative action,” Monadnock Superintendent Lisa Witte told reporters in March after the press release was released.