Loss of $89 million in state funding could mean budgetary collapse for NH schools

New Hampshire public schools will face an $89 million loss in state funding in 2022 without further action from lawmakers, according to documents from the NH Department of Education. The reduction is mostly due to changes in current school funding laws and drops in student enrollment in the 2020-2021 school year. 

The loss in state funding is as follows:

  • $59.2 million due to the expiration of one-time funding for state’s most vulnerable communities; 
  • $19.2 million reduction in funding for low-income students, due to a paperwork waiver from the US Department of Agriculture; and,
  • $13.9 million reduction in funding due to lower student enrollment.

Note: the total of the bullets above total roughly $92 million, but adjustments in other aid categories bring the total change in state funding to $89 million.

New Hampshire’s cities and towns that are already on the brink of financial collapse, and those with the greatest need, will bear the brunt of the funding loss. However, there are several proposals from lawmakers to address the fallout, including a bill that would hold districts harmless through 2023 so that they can craft a longer-term plan to fund the state’s schools. 

Click here to download a town-by-town analysis.

Funding for vulnerable communities

In 2019, lawmakers introduced a $138 million funding boost for the state’s most vulnerable communities. The one-time funds provided additional state aid to cities and towns with high proportions of students in poverty, and those least able to raise funds through property taxes. However, that funding is set to expire at the end of this school year (Spring 2021). 

Additional resources for students navigating poverty

The NH Department of Education is also expecting a 25% decrease in applications for the federal Free and Reduced-Price Lunch (FRL) program, which will lead to an expected $19 million drop in differentiated aid. 

Current state law funds public schools based on a per-student formula, with additional funding, called “differentiated aid,” for students who qualify for the federal Free and Reduced-Price Lunch (FRL) program, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners. Differentiated aid for FRL students is calculated based on the number of FRL applications received by the school; however, last year, the US Department of Agriculture provided states with a waiver to feed any student that wanted a meal, regardless of eligibility for the federal meal program. 

As a result, school districts statewide have received an anticipated 10,000 fewer applications for FRL, despite an expected uptick in the number of families who qualify for the program. Since the state uses those applications to calculate state aid, those districts will not receive that funding under current law.

This circumstance is not unique to New Hampshire: across the country, education leaders are grappling with the impact of the USDA’s paperwork waiver on state, local, and philanthropic funding. 

“There’s a general understanding that the poverty level across the nation has increased due to people losing their jobs and homes because of the economic impact of COVID, but if these forms are not submitted, it looks like poverty in schools has decreased,” said Jonas Zuckerman, the president of the National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators and the director of Title I services in Wisconsin’s department of public instruction. “What story are we telling with this data? It fails the smell test.”

Proposals to stop the cuts

There are a number of different approaches to school funding this session, from a proposal to hold schools harmless from the effects of the pandemic, to expanding targeted aid programs, to doubling down on the state’s existing, input-based funding formula. 

Key bills include:

HB 623: Provides that state funding will stay constant for 2022 and 2023 to protect districts against volatile changes in funding due to the pandemic and funding-related legislation.  

LSR 887: Relative to a temporary change in the formula for school funding. (Not yet introduced)

HB 242: Adds specifics to the laws around the content of an adequate education, defines the elements of base adequacy, and doubles down on the state’s input-based formula.

HB 608: Establishes Fiscal Capacity Disparity Aid program, repeals stabilization grants, and requires towns to send excess SWEPT funds to the state. 

There are several other LSRs that have not yet been introduced. Stay tuned for updates! 

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