School funding crisis “a math problem” that needs a statewide solution, say advocates

Image Credit: Glynis Hart for the Eagle Times

The state’s dependence on local property taxes to fund education is reaching a tipping point that requires a statewide solution, attorneys John Tobin and Andru Volinsky recently told a group of Newport area residents. Under the current formula, they said, property-poor districts have high tax rates but less money to fund their schools, leading to reduced staff and programs, while wealthier towns have more resources with lower tax rates.

From Manchester Ink Link:

While school districts bordering lakes or the ocean or with high-value, second-homes laden resort towns are able to provide IPads for their students, those on the low end struggle to maintain current offerings, but have reduced staff and programs, and frozen teachers’ pay.

As the lead attorney for Claremont education lawsuit, Andru Volinsky, said at a recent event in Newport, these schools are in crisis and others are not far from it.

Discussions over school funding often degenerate into a fight over costs, teachers’ pay, etc. but Volinsky and another attorney who worked on the Claremont lawsuit, John Tobin, were careful to skirt that fight and instead focus on the property tax system that pays about 60 percent of the $3 billion plus cost of public education in New Hampshire.

Volinsky put it simply: “School funding is a math problem.”

And it really is a simple math problem — how much property value does a community have per pupil? — that has been all but ignored by lawmakers since the last major change in the school funding formula in 2011.

The change replaced a new formula that never went into effect that would have significantly increased the state’s monetary commitment.

The 2011 formula did away with much of the “weighting” that funneled more money to property-poor communities by providing additional money for students on free and reduced lunch, with special education designations, and whose native language is not English.

The change costs poor school districts as well as most cities a significant amount of state aid, so stabilization grants were created to ensure school districts received no less state money than they received before the new formula went into effect…

The current system relying on the property tax to fund most public education costs means it is much easier for property-wealthier districts to raise money for education than poorer districts.

Tobin said the financial commitment of property-poor towns is far greater just to meet basic school needs. He said taxpayers in property-poor towns are “heroes” for their commitment, as are teachers who work for lower salaries with fewer resources in property-poor districts.

The message was that the issue is not how much public education costs, but how the money is raised.

Under the current system, they implied property taxpayers in all but the property-wealthiest towns are victims of the system.

Costs issues are decided by local school boards and taxpayers, but the tax system needs a statewide solution.

The current system has economic implications for communities with businesses not likely to locate where property taxes are high and the school system is not as robust, they noted. If businesses decide the property taxes are too high, they may move to another town where taxes are lower.

The two attorneys emphasized the blame lies with state government, which has not created the fairer funding system the Supreme Court ordered with both political parties failing the test.

Learn more about how the state funds its schools with our webinar, New Hampshire Public Education Funding A-Z. And, check out more resources on education funding:

Source: Seacoast schools thrive, North Country’s and others mired in funding crisis