House Finance Comm. folds the funding bills into the budget
On March 27, the House Finance Committee voted to fold into the House budget bills (HB 1 and 2) the contents of the three education bills we’ve been following. The vote on HB 177 (freezing stabilization cuts and restoring grants to 2016 levels) was 19-3 and the vote on HB 709 (providing fiscal capacity aid and other forms of aid starting in 2021) was unanimous (22-0). Representatives of both parties explicitly endorsed including these bills and the spending they propose into the budget. It was a striking moment – they all want to address school funding now and are willing to spend $100 million more a year to do so.
The independent commission bill (HB 551) will also be included in the budget, but the vote was along party lines. We’ll need to do some persuading to get more Republicans on board on this issue.
Most people in the Legislature expect that Governor Sununu will veto the budget bill. Then there will be a chance for the House and Senate to override the veto, for which 2/3 majorities are required. If that fails, there will be a new budget bill.
Senate folds stabilization bill into budget
On March 21, the Senate voted on SB 309, restoring stabilization funding to 2016 levels. (This was the Senate’s second consideration of the bill; you may recall that they had previously passed it and sent it to Senate Finance Committee, which recommended ought to pass and sent it back to the full Senate.) The bill passed unanimously, but then the Senate immediately tabled it. Like the House, they want to include the content of this bill in their budget bill; tabling it allows them to do this while retaining the right to revive the bill in the future if necessary.
Legislators have heard you!
I’d like to share excerpts from what Senator Kahn (D – chair of the Senate Education & Workforce Development Comm.) said to the full Senate about the need to restore stabilization funding. (You can hear this speech for yourself by going here and fast forwarding to 1:39:51.)
“Both in town meetings and in Education and Workforce Development Committee hearings, I’m sensing a change in the conversation. It’s not just anger and frustration. There is real despair and fear. Despair among property owners. … We’ve had school districts come in and say we’re about to close our school in Berlin, or we can’t make it anymore in Pittsfield or other school districts in the Monadnock region. These recurring cuts in the stabilization grants are resulting in rising taxes, recurring staff cuts, increasing class sizes, and teacher flight. … Rising property taxes to fund schools is delaying all sorts of other kinds of improvements in our towns, hurting our property taxpayers, and it’s hurting the education of our kids. We’re required in a more equal opportunity for our kids to help youth rise up and to help fixed income property owners hold their own. I know that today we must pass and then table this motion. But we have to come back and give priority to school funding and to property tax relief, to which I hope we will work together and to bring into this fiscal 20, fiscal 21 budget.”
It’s clear from Senator Kahn’s speech, from the strong support for the bill also expressed by Senators Birdsell (R), Guida (R), and Starr(R) on the floor of the Senate, and from the 24:0 vote in favor of SB 309 before it was tabled, that Senators are acutely aware of the pain that’s been caused to communities by loss of stabilization grants and they feel motivated to do something about it. Their awareness comes from the efforts of many of you, who have shown up to testify and/or called or emailed Senators in support of SB 309.
What to do now
There are no public hearings this week related to the education funding bills. The House budget bills will go to the Senate in April and the Senate will then hold hearings on those bills before proposing their own amendments. In the meantime, however, representatives and senators need to continue to hear about the importance of the contents of these bills and, in particular, the need for the independent school funding commission.
Please contact your representatives and senator (names and contact info can be found here), and ask them to commit to funding the independent study commission, in addition to restoring stabilization grants to 2016 levels and implementing an interim funding structure that ensures that school districts and taxpayers will experience meaningful relief (as set out in HB 709).
Possible talking points on the commission issue:
- A funded independent commission would include legislators as well as members of the public, and the funds could be used to bring in outside experts for their input.
- In the decades since the Claremont decision, legislative committees have tried to solve the school funding problem, yet the disparities that existed in the 1990s still exist today. We need more than the kind of tweaking we’ve seen since Claremont. An independent commission could bring fresh eyes and national expertise to the table.
- Explaining how the current inequitable system of school fundings affects you, your school district and/or your community will help legislators understand the urgency of these measures.
Spread the word: The following presentations will take place in the next few weeks. They are free, open to the public, and highly informative.
- Portsmouth: Tuesday, April 16, 6:00 p.m. at Portsmouth High School, 50 Andrew Jarvis Drive, Portsmouth, NH.
- New Durham: Wednesday, April 17, 6:30 p.m. at the New Durham Public Library
If you know people who might be interested in receiving this newsletter, they may sign up at this link. Feel free to forward this email to others using the link at the top of this newsletter.Follow us on Facebook: NHSchoolFundingFairness
Updates and resources: Advancing NH Public Education at https://anhpe.org/