State Sen. Nancy Stiles, the chair of the State Senate Education Committee who represents Hampton and North Hampton, is leading the fight for a constitutional amendment, CACR12, which will create more problems than it solves. For years, the New Hampshire legislature and the state judiciary have been battling one another over state funding of education. Particularly at issue was the funding of needy districts.
State law, as interpreted by the court, mandated that all districts be provided the
same amount of money per pupil, currently around $4,000. However, the state has found a way to provide that amount and still give extra money to needy
districts. The irony is that we've currently devised a pretty good way to both
fund all districts and give extra money to needy ones, but we're so used to
arguing that no one notices that the remedy is right there in front of our
The Republican-controlled State Senate, with the help of Stiles' vote, has passed a solution to a problem that doesn't really exist. Republicans have proposed a constitutional amendment, CACR12, which makes the legislature the sole determiner of the standards of education and how education will be funded. The legislators can give needy districts extra money without the interference of the judiciary. Problem solved? No. Bigger problems are created.
First problem: this constitutional amendment would essentially cut the
judiciary out of the educational process. Our state and nation were founded on
the principle of the balance of power among the legislative, executive, and
judicial branches of government. However, the State Senate is prepared to
unbalance government by casting the courts aside.
What happens when one branch of government gains too much power? It operates in its own self interest. Will the legislature do the decent thing and give each school district just what it needs to operate its schools, giving more money to poor districts and less money to rich ones. Excuse me while I chuckle. In politics, them that has the power makes the rules. Larger districts or those with more influential or well-placed members will get more money than they deserve; other less powerful districts will get less money than is due them. In the feeding
frenzy for educational dollars, needy districts may well once again find
themselves underfunded. And no court will be available to restore
Second problem: School districts need stability in their funding so that they can plan for the future. With CACR12 in place, funding will change abruptly with shifts
in the political winds. When Democrats are in power, funding for education will
likely increase. When Republicans are in control, it is likely to decline.
Future planning by districts will be difficult when the legislature is taking
them on this continuing rollercoaster ride.
Third problem: No floor for state educational funding is specified in CACR12.
Theoretically, it could drop to zero. This point was emphasized by Democratic
State Senator Molly Kelly when she spoke on the radio program "The Exchange"
(2/17/12). "I would just argue that one of my concerns with this amendment is
that it doesn't set any floor for education funding nor does it set any minimum
funding amount. . . So how would school districts, how would towns and cities
plan for their future whether it's in tax liability which definitely correlates
to the school budget - how would they plan, knowing they have no idea what
funding would be available whatsoever."
On the same program, Republican Representative D.J. Bettancourt responded to
Kelly's comments. "I think it's completely unreasonable to think that the
legislature would turn its back on funding education - to walk away from the
table completely and say we're not going to fund public
Democratic Representative Christine Hamm then replied to Bettancourt. "Of all the 50 states, we (New Hampshire) fund less than 25 percent of education - that's state aid to education - whereas the average among all the states is 50 percent. . . The state has a history of walking away from education funding."
Fourth problem: If the state does not fund public education, then the cost will be
downshifted onto towns with the inevitable result (you guessed it) of increases
in local property taxes. Rep. Hamm continues her remarks: "When Sen. Bradley
(another Republican panel participant on the program) talks about returning to
local control, that's a euphemism for returning it to local control funding,
even more local funding, which bases it on more local property taxes than we
have already. And already we have more of that than any place in the
So, CACR12 creates more problems than it solves. Nevertheless, the Republican
supermajority in the State Senate, with the help of Stiles' vote, passed it anyway because it conforms with its idea of local government being in control, no matter what the consequences. Should CACR12 also pass the Republican-controlled House, it will be up to sensible voters to defeat this ill-conceived constitutional amendment at the polls next November.