PART TWO: Is an “adequate education” adequate for our students?

When talking about the cost of education in New Hampshire, the term “adequate education” usually comes up. But what does it mean, and how much does it cost?

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Every child in New Hampshire has the right to the opportunity for an “adequate education,” per our state Constitution, and accordingly, it is the state’s responsibility to pay for that education.
  • An “adequate education” has been defined by the state legislature as a set of minimum state academic standards, or what students should be able to know and do at each grade level.
    Check out this infographic to learn more about how New Hampshire funds an adequate education.
    • This includes instruction in English/language arts, reading, mathematics, science, social studies, art, world languages, health, physical education, engineering and technologies, and computer science and digital literacy in Kindergarten through 12th grade.
    • The New Hampshire State Board of Education sets minimum academic standards, though districts can adopt their own standards that meet or exceed them.
  • The state gives districts $3,636 in funds for each student to fund an adequate education. This money is called base adequacy.
    • Base adequacy funds include the cost of teachers, instructional materials, facilities, transportation, a guidance counselor, a principal, and technology.
    • In addition to the $3,636 in base adequacy funds, districts receive additional money for special education students, English Language Learners, students who qualify for the federal Free and Reduced Lunch program, and students who are not deemed proficient in reading by third grade.These programs are known as “differentiated aid”.
    • If the education costs in a district are more than the $3,636 that the state provides for each student, the towns and cities must make up the difference through local property taxes

The cost of education in New Hampshire

The cost of education varies widely between districts. The average cost was about $15,800 per student in 2017-2018. Manchester spent the least amount per student at $12,000, while Waterville Valley had the highest cost at $42,800 per student.

So how did the state determine $3,636 to be the cost?

The figure includes a number of staff and materials deemed to be essential for schools to provide an adequate education:

  • One teacher per class. Class sizes are set at 25 students in grades K-2 and 30 students in grades 3-12 at an annual salary of $35,539 plus benefits
  • One unified arts teacher (including art, world languages, health, physical education, engineering and technologies, and computer science and digital literacy) per 5 classes at an annual salary of $35,539 plus benefits, with the rationale that students spend approximately 20% of the school day in these classes
  • One principal per 500 students at an annual salary of $78,917 plus benefits
  • One administrative assistant per 500 students at an annual salary of $31,712 plus benefits
  • One guidance counselor per 400 students at an annual salary of $38,996
  • One library media specialist per 500 students at an annual salary of $35,539
  • One technology coordinator per 1,200 students at an annual salary of $27,540 plus benefits
  • One custodian per 500 students at an annual salary of $27,540 plus benefits
  • Instructional materials ($250), technology ($75), teacher development ($20), facilities operation and maintenance ($195), and transportation ($315) per student

*Note: these figures, when weighted, add up to $3,456 per student. This is the original amount of adequacy aid per student, which has increased by inflation for a current value of $3,636

So how does the state account for the adequacy amount when average costs are more than $15,000 per student?

Most districts exceed the minimum standards, with smaller class sizes and higher teacher pay. Other costs are not included in the formula, like school nurses, which the state requires, teacher aides, and other staff, and may spend more in maintaining their buildings, in technology for students, or in other costs.

Reconsidering the bare minimum

Members of the Committees to Study Education Funding and the Cost of an Opportunity for an Adequate Education, which met over the summer, are expected to introduce a bill that would increase base adequacy from $3,636 to $3,897, and increase differentiated aid for students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch from $1,818 per student to $2,500. The committee also recommended ending stabilization grants and replacing it with grants based on the ability for cities and towns to raise funds from property taxes, known as “equalized valuation.”

“Increasing base adequacy to better reflect current costs and implementing a targeted grant program to deliver additional funds to the neediest communities was the best option to address the cost of an opportunity for all children for an adequate education,” the committee report stated.

However, according to some lawmakers, that doesn’t go far enough. Representative Marjorie Porter is the prime sponsor of a bill that would increase the base adequacy to $8,000 per student, according to NHPR:

“This bill says: ‘Look you’re saying that this is what it costs to provide the bare minimum adequacy you’re wrong and you’re wrong by a big amount, and this is what the bare minimum really is,'” she says.

Check out our first part of our five-part series breaking down education funding in New Hampshire, The big question for 2019: How will we pay for our schools?, and stay tuned for the next three parts: