Keene forum underscores growing frustration with funding inequities

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Amid growing frustration over funding inequities in they way New Hampshire funds its education system, attorney John Tobin and Executive Councilor Andru Volinksy are urging residents to reach out to their elected officials at forums around the state.

A reliance on local property taxes and recent legislative changes, including reductions of stabilization grants for communities with declining enrollments, have put pressure on property-poor towns and taxpayers. At a forum in Keene, residents expressed frustration with the funding formula and the legislature’s unwillingness to address the problems.

From the Keene Sentinel:

“Let me just be blunt: This system hasn’t changed in 20 years because the people that we all send to Concord have not felt pressure to change it,” Tobin said. “It’s as simple as that.”

One attendee, Patricia Bauries, signaled frustration with a lack of action at the Statehouse. Bauries is a former member of the Monadnock Regional School Board and lived in Swanzey for 40 years before recently moving to Marlborough.

“Fifteen years ago, we talked about the fact that it was an unfair way to educate our children and that it was not only unfair to children, but unsustainable to taxpayers. A comment was made that you can’t just get on the bus and go to Concord and change their minds,” she said. “And in all of the efforts that have taken place throughout those 15 years, the legislative body has gone more and more away from any fairness to either the students or the taxpayers…”

Laura White, a teacher in the Chesterfield School District, which is part of Unit 29, called New Hampshire’s school funding system a “travesty.”

“When I switched from teaching in another town in the area, I received a $10,000 increase in my salary, which brings kind of a moral quandary,” she said. “Why am I being paid $10,000 more to teach children of affluent families who have the resources at home and typically would do better anyway, and children in another town are being taught by teachers who are paid less and they are bringing many more deficits to the school classroom?”

White, along with several other attendees, asked what would be a better model for education funding and questioned why nothing has been done so far.

Volinsky took aim at “the pledge,” an unofficial promise New Hampshire political candidates often make that they won’t consider a broad-based state income or sales tax, and stressed that additional revenue streams — such as an income tax — must be considered.

For many, the lack of such a tax is considered an integral part of the New Hampshire identity and a key draw for businesses.

“The states that do (education funding) well are ones that have multiple funding sources for their schools. It’s kind of like what you would do with any good business,” Volinsky said. “You don’t want a single stream of income because if something happens to that one product line, your business goes south.”

Additional forums on school funding are scheduled in Concord on Oct. 2 and in Rochester on Oct. 10.

Equity in educational opportunities has led to two Supreme Court cases in New Hampshire, Claremont I & II, with some districts and educational advocates considering a third. There is currently a legislative committee that meets monthly to examine the funding formula, and how it can be revised to better meet the needs of the state. Recommendations for changes are expected in November 2018.

Learn more about the school funding formula in the state, its effect on student outcomes, and more:

Source: State’s education funding ‘travesty’ topic of forum in Keene | Keene Sentinel