Make your voice heard: Public hearing on state budget scheduled for next week

Lawmakers who are crafting the state budget for the next biennium are seeking public input next week. 

The full House Finance Committee will have a public hearing on Tuesday, March 16 at 1 p.m. Register to testify using this portal and clicking on “March 16.” 

New Hampshire public schools are facing an $89 million drop in state funding this fall, due largely to the expiration of targeted funding for our state’s most vulnerable communities. Roughly three-quarters of the drop in funding will affect vulnerable communities the most, particularly those that serve high proportions of students navigating poverty and those that have limited capacity to raise local tax revenue for schools. 

The drop 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 categories above total roughly $92 million, but adjustments in other aid categories bring the total change in state funding to $89 million.

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

The current proposed budget would recoup roughly $17 million of the $89 million by allowing districts to use the higher of free and reduced-price lunch enrollment figures from School Year (SY) 2020 or SY 2021, for calculating SY 2022 school grants. 

The House voted down efforts to hold funding stable through 2022 and 2023, as well as rework the funding formula using the Commission to Study School Funding’s recommendations, in favor of folding a proposal into the state budget. 

High turnout to Tuesday’s public hearing could increase the chances of recouping the state funding losses in our schools. In previous budget sessions, lawmakers have made substantial changes to the proposed budget as a result of public pressure. 

Hard Choices

In Pittsfield, school leaders had already chopped $190,000 off the operating budget in order to keep tax increases to a minimum when they learned they’d be losing about $1 million in revenues, mostly in state funds. The district budget committee sent them back to the drawing board to slice another $487,000. 

In the Shaker Regional School District, officials presented a lean budget that nevertheless raised taxes. “It’s going to hit us really hard this year in trying to explain that our operating budget is minimal, but … if your expenditures are not being offset by your revenues, the local taxpayer has to pick up the difference,” said Shaker Regional Superintendent Michael Tursi. “It’s going to be especially difficult this year in the sense that many families have fallen on hard times. They’re scraping. We understand that.”

Dover has discussed cutting 33 staff positions, including 18 teacher positions, to make up for their budget shortfall. On Monday, March 8, they passed a default budget that is still about $5 million above the $67.8 million that would comply with the city’s tax cap, but Superintendent William Habron said in a school board meeting that “this is what it really costs to operate education in Dover.”

Read our full story on school districts choosing between budget cuts and tax hikes here