A letter signed by more than 150 local leaders and presented to the NH House Finance Committee on Monday, March 13, urges lawmakers to address chronic and worsening inequities in public school funding.
“It is… the strongly held belief of those signed below that strong, well-funded public education is the most important asset for the future of New Hampshire and its citizens… [yet] education funding in New Hampshire continues to be inequitable,” reads the letter, which was released by the NH School Funding Fairness Project and signed by mayors, city councilors, school board members and other leaders from around the state. “Lawmakers have allowed for a decrease in education funding year after year, contributing to increases in property taxes across many communities throughout New Hampshire. Currently, lawmakers in Concord are working on the state budget. This is the single most significant vehicle for addressing this problem and we once again call on the New Hampshire Legislature and Governor to act.”
The letter was presented to the House Finance Committee during its public hearing on the state budget. Addressed to Gov. Sununu and lawmakers, it urges them to use years of record surplus dollars to fund public schools and expand opportunities for New Hampshire students. In 2021, the Governor and lawmakers used $100 million in surplus dollars to fund tax cuts that lowered taxes for towns with high property values, while eliminating funding for high-need schools.
“I’m here today to encourage you to fully fund our public education system by correcting long-standing inequities and gaps and fulfilling the state’s constitutional requirement to provide all students an adequate education,” Dover School Board member Micaela Demeter, who presented the letter, told the Committee. “No school district can provide an appropriate public education to its pupils using the state’s average contribution of just $4,773 per student. Because taxpayers make up the funding gap left by the state, New Hampshire school districts are divided into haves and havenots based on wildly varying equalized property values.”
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, who signed the letter, also issued a press release, citing her own experience in New Hampshire’s public schools and stating that she has always been a “vocal proponent of greater state support and contribution toward a quality education for all New Hampshire students.”
The letter and public testimony also called out the state for its inaction in the face of multiple lawsuits and a comprehensive study conducted by an independent legislative commission in 2020. “Through the current state budget process, the Legislature and Governor have an opportunity to fix these problems to ensure that students in every school district in New Hampshire have access to the best possible public education, while also providing real property tax relief to taxpayers in every corner of the state,” the letter reads.
The Governor’s proposed budget for the 2024-25 biennium contains several changes to education policy, including increases in base adequacy, differentiated aid, and extraordinary relief grants, and the elimination of stabilization grants, along with increased funding for the school voucher program. The House Finance subcommittee that focuses on education, known as Division II, is still working on its own proposals but has recommended inclusion of several key House bills in the state budget. These include a bill that restores $100 million in targeted funding to communities based on tax capacity and student needs, and bills that would increase funding for special education, public charter schools, and career and technical education centers.
View Reaching Higher’s slideshow from our webinar on the state budget here.