To The Daily Sun,
As educators in this great state, we appreciate how deeply our citizens value public schools. Parents, business owners, taxpayers all agree a high-quality system of education benefits everyone.
Given that broad support, North Country superintendents respectfully ask our state take immediate steps to improve the way we pay for our schools and correct the deeply ingrained funding imbalance that threatens to erode the quality our residents expect from public schools.
New Hampshire funds public education primarily through property taxes. While this approach emphasizes local control over spending, it creates an unfair imbalance among communities with lower property values.The stress this puts on property owners and educational institutions in communities with less taxable property and lower values is devastating. We need to change the system.
North Country school districts are speaking with one voice with the hope that a collaborative effort will finally encourage state lawmakers to make meaningful reforms. We hope this change will provide some relief via property taxes, and will also allow public education systems to provide a high-quality educational experience for all of our unique learners.
We need an equitable funding system that recognizes the many changes in our education landscape over the years. For example, medical advances mean increased diagnosis of learning disabilities for students, along with mental health/social-emotional issues and opioid abuse. These advances give a chance to improve the way we teach, but this enhanced understanding carries an expectation that we will meet new challenges with greater, more individualized resources to help children. Even with a slightly decreasing enrollment, we find ourselves in greater demand for specialized services and personnel to meet the evolving and complex needs of our students. Federal aid, such as funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has fallen well short of need in New Hampshire. Superintendents and educators find themselves in front of communities asking for more funds as we strive to provide an engaging and high-quality education to all of the children in our charge.
In addition, given the aging demographics of our state, with fewer residents having any direct connection with schools, the continued down-shifting of cost has resulted in cities and towns flat-funding school budgets just to offset major property tax hikes. Taxpayers are struggling statewide to keep up with need.
The state’s stabilization program was supposed to provide funding for cities and towns struggling to meet basic needs. However, lawmakers voted three years ago to start reducing that aid by 4 percent each year until the program is eliminated. This will cut $150 million in direct aid to districts that need the most help. Residents in those communities face a terrible choice: raise taxes to fill the gap or cut services. In most of our districts, budget time means “red pen” time, as we carve out every possible item to preserve the basics. We can do better.
We urge lawmakers to immediately reverse stabilization grant cuts and fully restore the grants to previous levels. That’s step one.
Second, we must change legislative spending behaviors. State lawmakers continue to shift the cost of education to local communities. The state provides $3,636.00 per pupil plus dollars based on free/reduced student populations, special education numbers and other factors. The rate is many years old and doesn’t reflect today’s costs. It’s too low.
The average tuition for a student in the State of New Hampshire, based on the 2017-18 data: elementary school - $15,981, middle school - $15,021, and high school - $16,214.
Considering the state education tax is also levied on local taxpayers, locals are paying both the state and local share of education through their property taxes. Considering property-poor towns have no funding alternatives, Concord lawmakers must create a new system of payment that removes the property tax burden from our local taxpayers and directs extra aid to communities struggling to fund basic educational services. It must be equitable and sustainable.
Quality public education is the most important component of a free and democratic society. Our schools provide an essential pipeline for citizenship and workforce development. Our current path will soon lead us to economic peril. We ask parents, community leaders and taxpayers to join the call for a better way to fund our public education. It’s time to act.
North Country Superintendents
Corinne Cascadden, SAU #3; Bruce Beasley, SAU #7; Kevin Richard, SAU #9; David Backler, SAU #20; Laurie Melanson, SAU #23, Pierre Couture, SAU #35; Marion Anastasia, SAU #36; Michael Kelley, SAU #58; Judith McGann, SAU #68, William Lander, SAU #77; Steven Nilhas, SAU #84.
Serving towns/city: Berlin, Colebrook, Pittsburg, Stewartstown, Conway, Jackson, Bartlett, Albany, Madison, Chatham, Eaton, Gorham, Randolph, Shelburne Cooperative Milan, Dummer, Errol, Bath, Haverhill Cooperative, Warren, Piermont, Bethlehem, Landaff, Lisbon, Profile, Lafayette Regional, White Mt. Regional, Carroll, Dalton, Jefferson, Lancaster, Whitefield, Northumberland, Stratford, Stark, Lincoln, Woodstock Cooperative, Monroe, Littleton