Education funding a top issue in upcoming election, according to Citizens Count survey

State funding for public schools and school voucher programs are among the top issues Granite Staters want candidates to address in the 2022 election, according to the NH non-profit Citizens Count. 

Citizens Count surveys candidates for state and federal offices in New Hampshire each election year, relying on input from policy advocates, stakeholders, and the general public to shape its survey questions. The state’s “education freedom account” program and the level of per-pupil public school funding from the state both made the list of the top five issues to ask on candidate surveys – suggesting that these topics will be key factors in the 2022 election. 

“School vouchers and school funding are the top issues in education right now here in New Hampshire, and it will be critical that voters know the positions of their candidates when they go to the ballot box in November,” said Christina Pretorius, Reaching Higher NH’s Policy Director. “Granite Staters have said time and time again that they want strong public schools that work for all students and families, and the best way to have that happen is to elect people who align with that vision.” 

School vouchers rank third on list

New Hampshire residents have been opposed to school vouchers since they were initially introduced in 2017, and vouchers and other privatization efforts have been election issues ever since. 

A Granite State Poll found that 45% of Granite Staters opposed vouchers, while 35% supported them. A historic number of people opposed House Bill 20 and Senate Bill 130 — 5,200 people and 3,300 people, respectively — when they were introduced, forcing lawmakers to fold the bill into a larger budget bill to avoid scrutiny. 

Since then, vouchers have been a critical issue in education policy, especially as the program has cost the state over $8 million in its first year alone. According to the NH Department of Education, 83% of the students who enrolled in the program in its first year had already been enrolled in private and homeschooling programs prior to the program’s start. 

School funding ranks fifth on list

School funding is a perennial electoral issue in New Hampshire: The Granite State ranked last in state funding for public schools in 2022 and lags behind only Washington, D.C., in its dependence on local funding. For every dollar raised for public schools, about 64 cents comes from local property taxes, 31 cents comes from the state, and the remainder comes from the federal government, according to the the National Center for Education Statistics

The dependence on local property taxes to fund schools has put extraordinary pressure on districts and has amplified the opportunity gap for students. In the 2020-2021 school year, the state paid $3,709 per student, with additional funding for students based on need; yet, schools spent an average of $18,434 per student during that same period. 

“It is unacceptable that lawmakers in Concord expect our public K-12 schools to adequately operate with the same amount of funding received in 2005, and it serves as only one of many possible examples of the State’s continued efforts to downshift costs onto local property taxpayers,” local officials wrote in an open letter to lawmakers during the 2021 budget process, urging the state to increase funding to public schools. 

A series of lawsuits over the years have taken aim at the school funding formula. A new lawsuit filed last month in Grafton County Superior Court argues that the formula is inequitable for taxpayers. Another lawsuit awaiting trial in Rockingham County is seeking for the state to increase its per-pupil funding.

About the survey

“When Citizens Count staff choose which issues to ask about on our candidate surveys – and how to phrase the questions – we know we are sending a message about the most important issues facing New Hampshire,” Anna Brown, Director of Research and Analysis, wrote in an article posted on the Citizens Count website and shared by the Granite State News Collaborative. 

Citizens Count will send surveys to candidates and post their profiles on their website sometime in July. 

Read the full article here