To The Daily Sun,
This is the 24th of my series of letters on what is happening in Concord or of interest to the voters. I promised to write on education and school funding and that is my subject for this letter. I have had to spit it into two parts because of newspaper constraints, so this is my first section.
In New Hampshire, most public school funding originates in the pocketbook of local taxpayers and most of us hope we elect a local school board that watches out not only for the students, but also the taxpayer. It doesn’t always work out, but we have had some very good board members in Franklin. A much larger problem has occurred at the state Board of Education level. Unfortunately, our state has appointed N.H. School Board members for 18 of the last 20 years who loved regulations and micromanaging our public schools. With backing by the N.H. School Boards Association and the School Administrators Association the pressure on local schools and superintendents has been to simply comply with whatever the DOE and the state board said ... or else. Frankly it hasn't been working. So what has been the effect on school funding? First, let me say this has not been a recent concern. I recently read a state report on education from 1890. Besides reporting that Plymouth “Normal” School for teachers now had heat in the classrooms, it said the biggest issue facing school was how to help poor rural schools to pay for education. Things haven’t changed much have they? The numbers are larger but the problems remain.
What we call school funding you might be surprised to know is actually about seven different funding streams when it arrives at the local school district. What they are called doesn’t really matter. What is important to know is that almost all the funding initiates from local property taxes from US, the local taxpayers. The main funding is called STATE ADEQUACY, which is a term arising out of the Claremont lawsuit(s) but the amount is determined by the legislature and paid from the State Education Trust Fund. Real estate taxes and the State Lottery fund the Education Trust Fund. The second funding source comes to the schools as money designated for students on the federal “free and reduced (price) lunch program.” A relatively new state funding source is designed for 3rd grade kids who aren’t reading or compute at 3rd grade levels. Sadly, the money according to the law, does not have to help those students read or do math or even have to be used for anything academic at all. It’s a bad law. Third, funding source(s) are classified as “differentiated aid” and include all funding for special needs kids including a reimbursement scheme called catastrophic aid. Finally, a recent hotly debated funding source (especially for Franklin and other lower income towns) called stabilization. Stabilization was meant to be a transition payment to lessen the burden from other funding changes made during the legislative years of 2010-2011. School Boards would have been wise to plan for the eventual reduction of stabilization funding and logic would say that the school boards should have been advised by the N.H. School Boards Association to expect a future reduction. Lots of finger pointing when the planned reductions occurred.
So where are we now in the scheme of funding our public schools? Many different people say they are underfunded, but that is a question often asked in Concord. On one side people point to the statistics that show, on a per pupil basis, we are spending on average more and more each year. That is, our combined public school budgets are growing and growing. On the other side, because we have a continuously declining public school student body statewide (all of the declines not explainable simply because we have an older population and fewer births), and since we fund everything at the state level on a per-student basis, we simply aren’t budgeting as much for adequacy. Why is the cost to educate students growing when the student population falling? The answer is not a simple one. One large part is we are asking the schools to do more and more (remember the increased regulations I mentioned in the first paragraph?) and they, as a result are demanding more and more personnel to comply. We have expensive problems to deal with arising from regulations in “No Child Left Behind” and "Every Child Succeeds”. We have schools that are asked to be essentially surrogate parents and the fastest growing population in any school is non-teaching personnel. As a state, we have a much larger staff of administration, counselors, classroom assistants, and special education teachers. This is all true but should it be? Is there a better way?
Representative for Hill and Franklin