Lawmakers pass bipartisan budget that boosts public school funding, creates teacher retention program

In a historic vote, lawmakers in both the House and Senate passed a bipartisan budget this week that includes more state funding for public schools, a new teacher retention program, increased charter school funding, and more state funding for career and technical education programs. 

The NH Senate voted to unanimously pass the legislation on Wednesday, and the House passed the bill in a landslide 326-53 vote on Thursday. The bill will now go to Governor Chris Sununu’s desk for signature. The new budget will take effect on July 1, 2023. 

Key takeaways from the new budget: 

  • Increases state funding for public schools by $72 million in FY2024 and $85 million in FY2025 through increases in the base adequacy formula and targeted school funding. 
  • Restores funding to the state’s Education Trust Fund by reversing the “Weyler Amendment,” and keeps key education programs funded within the ETF. 
  • Creates a teacher stipend program that would provide direct support to eligible student teachers who are completing their higher education programs. 
  • Increases public charter school funding to $4,900 per student, plus adequacy aid. 
  • Increases funding for career and technical education programs by $4.4 million over the biennium.
  • Invests in computer science education by allocating $4 million for professional development and incentives for teachers who obtain computer science credentialing. 
  • Allocates $1 million to create a statewide civics textbook. 
  • Includes $86 million over the biennium for the state’s school building aid program. 
  • Funds the state’s Public School Infrastructure Fund, which public schools can use to increase school security through access control, emergency alerting, or surveillance upgrades. 

The budget does not include the school voucher expansion that Governor Sununu originally proposed in February; however, lawmakers did pass an expansion along party lines earlier this week through House Bill 367. The budget also removed the House’s proposal to increase students’ access to school meals by stripping language about automatic enrollment and expanding eligibility for school meals. 

Increasing state funding for public schools 

The budget’s school funding package was a compromise between the Governor’s proposed funding formula, which would have nearly eliminated targeted funding for high-need schools over time, and the House’s proposal, which would have increased the amount and number of targeted aid programs. 

The school funding package increases per-student adequacy funding by 6% over current law, to $4,100 per student. Schools would receive more funding for students who participate in the free and reduced price lunch program (19% increase) and who qualify for special education services (11% increase). 

It also increases targeted aid by about $30 million in FY2024 by expanding eligibility for, and the amount of extraordinary need grants.  Extraordinary need grants target state funding to public schools based on income and tax capacity. The formula eliminates stabilization grants, which provided about $157 million in funding in FY2023, and relief aid, which provided $17.5 million in funding in FY2023 for schools based on the concentration of students navigating poverty. 

For towns that would lose funding because of the change, the funding package also includes a “hold harmless” grant, which would hold their state funding at 104% of the amount they would receive under the current formula. 

In total, the school funding package increases state aid by $157 million over the budget cycle. 

View the town-by-town analysis from the Legislative Budget Assistant here.

Teacher stipend program

Lawmakers included a new teacher stipend program into the state budget, which would use federal COVID relief funds to provide weekly stipends to student teachers, with the goal of reducing financial barriers to completing teacher prep programs. Currently, student teachers must work in a school full-time for at least a semester, and in some programs a full year, as part of their educator preparation program. Usually the student teaching program is unpaid, and student teachers often find it difficult to work additional jobs when they’re already working full-time in the school. The stipends created by the program would be available to eligible students who meet certain financial criteria. 

School safety & pilot program

The state budget provides $10 million over the biennium to fund the Public School Infrastructure Fund, which was created in 2018 and has been used to fund security upgrades to public schools across the state. Schools have received funding for alarms and video surveillance systems, communication systems, reinforcing access points, and more. 

One program that didn’t make it into the state budget was the Guardian Pilot Program. Under the pilot program, the Cheshire County Sheriff would recruit and train armed civilian guards to be stationed in public schools across the county. Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut requested $1.5 million for the program, but it was not adopted.

The Cheshire County Sheriff reported that he is still interested in pursuing the program. 

Expanded access to school meals removed

Lawmakers removed language from the budget that would have increased student access to school meals and would have increased funding for high-need districts. 

Senate majority leaders on the Senate Finance Committee stripped the budget of language that would have expanded school meal eligibility and would have streamlined school meal applications through the Medicaid Direct Certification (MDC) program, and instead replaced it with language that will create a committee to study the issue. Under MDC, students who participate in the state’s Medicaid program would be automatically enrolled in their school meal program.

According to NH Department of Education estimates, approximately 9,000 students are eligible for school meals, but are not enrolled in the program — but would be under MDC.

Because the state’s school funding formula relies heavily on school meal participation, schools also receive less funding than they would otherwise be eligible for with full participation. 

Senate Democrats tried to amend the budget bill on Wednesday to include the language, but the amendment was voted down on a party-line vote. 

Next steps

The bill must be formally enrolled and reviewed by the state’s legal team to make technical and administrative corrections. After the bill is enrolled, it will go to the Governor’s desk for signature. 

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