February 29, 2024

Concord Monitor – Opinion: Adequate public education funding is good for all

Deb Howes is president of AFT-New Hampshire.

Every child is worth educating well. Every. Single. Child. Not just some, or even the majority. All of them. That seems like stating the obvious, but sadly, it’s not obvious to everyone, especially in the state Legislature.

What does “well” mean? Every child deserves to get the range of courses, services and opportunities that will help them become productive members of society. But there’s a catch. It takes adequate funding, something that the state hasn’t been willing to do. This isn’t right, it’s not fair and our state lawmakers must start approving appropriate funding for our public schools in the current legislative session.

The New Hampshire Constitution requires a robust public education for every public school district in the state. To accomplish this, New Hampshire must fund public schools adequately so that each and every student — including those who are struggling academically, those who require social and emotional assistance, special education students and, yes, even the gifted and talented — is given the opportunity to excel with a comprehensive, well-resourced education.

The state needs to fix the chronic underfunding of neighborhood public schools by paying its fair share for education, as directed by the 2023 ConVal and Rand court decisions. The ConVal school funding case held that while it’s up to the Legislature to determine the minimum level of adequate funding for public schools, it “can be no less than $7,356.01 per pupil per year and the true cost is likely much higher than that.” Currently, base adequacy is just $4,100 per pupil per year. That’s more than a $3,000 difference and many thousands of dollars less than the actual average cost of educating a New Hampshire student.

So what has the Legislature decided to do? Exactly what the court decisions and parents are urging it not to do. It’s proposing millions of dollars in state funds for vouchers to be used at unaccountable private schools, which do not accept all comers, as public schools are required to do. The current legislative session unsurprisingly has on its docket several variations on a theme to expand vouchers. For instance, there’s a bill to make them near-universal, one to add categories for voucher expansion and one that raises the income eligibility for vouchers.

The choice to spend ever-increasing property taxes on vouchers, not public schools, is not a fair way to fund our schools and is endangering the constitutional rights of citizens to a robust public education, as well as harming local property taxpayers. It hinders the state from meeting its constitutional obligation to all Granite State students to appropriately fund public schools.

The real solution to the problem is investing adequate state funding for all New Hampshire students and our public schools. Why shouldn’t every public school student be guaranteed an education that helps them become a well-educated citizen, ready for college or work? It’s not going to happen with a meager $4,100 per student per year. State lawmakers should feel ashamed and embarrassed by that figure and want to do what’s best for the next generation. It’s not rocket science to figure it out. Students deserve to learn and thrive, and that takes adequate funding for our public schools.

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