Before “divisive concepts” and Critical Race Theory; before the vouchers designed to sap funds from local taxpayers; even before Chris Sununu chose Frank Edelblut to spearhead the privatization of New Hampshire public education — there was adequacy aid.

By far the longest-lived target of governors and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but especially belt-tightening conservatives, the N.H. Supreme Court’s ruling that the constitution requires the state to fund an “adequate” education for its children has been fought tooth and nail in courtrooms and legislative chambers for 25 years.

For a time, the issue seemed to have calmed, with “targeted” aid added to the absolutely inadequate education funding paid for by local property taxes and funneled through Concord to give it the veneer of “state funding.” But while the legislative battle had ceased, property poor communities continued to fall further behind in both tax equity and educational achievement.

Finally, something broke: The ConVal regional School District filed suit in 2019 to force the state to pay what its own definition of “adequate” actually costs — roughly three times what it had been paying per pupil.

That suit, since joined by Monadnock, Winchester and several other districts, was successful in Cheshire County Superior Court. But an appeal to the N.H. Supreme Court found it remanded to Cheshire Superior for a trial or evidentiary hearing to determine whether the state’s adequacy aid “is sufficient to deliver the opportunity for an adequate education.”

So far, that hasn’t happened. But in the meantime, pressure on the state is ramping up. Last spring, the Commission to Study School Funding created in 2019 by the Legislature in response to the lawsuit, issued its report, finding: “New Hampshire’s poorer communities are currently producing worse student outcomes than wealthier communities — [this] is a 9–1–1 call for a prompt emergency response.”

Well, what to do when it becomes clear you’re not meeting your financial obligations? Of course, you change the obligations. Or at least, you try.

And that’s where House Bill 1671 comes in. Authored by Edelblut and the state Department of Education, it took a ham-handed approach: cutting roughly in half the educational courseload the state would deem necessary to an “adequate” education. HB 1671 would remove subjects such as world languages, computer science, art, health and physical education from the state’s definition of an adequate public education, leaving only English, math, science and the now-censored topic of social studies.

It doesn’t lessen the time students must spend in school, or alleviate other required school costs, such as meals, transportation, administration, custodians, security, etc. — though it’s worth noting the existing formula for an “adequate” education, upon which the ConVal suit is based, already lowballs all those areas.

It’s fair to wonder, then, how students would spend their time at school. Would they take double the number of English, math and science classes, or double the length of those courses? And what would they tell college admissions staffers when asked why their foreign language learning, arts/music knowledge or computer skills are lacking?

Well, according to Edelblut, testifying before the House Education Committee last month, schools “can continue to offer them as a separate thing if that’s what you want to do.” He then added that those topics would still be required. But not at the state’s expense.

The bill would vastly lower the state’s responsibility in paying for an “adequate education,” by redefining what that term means to omit half the current mandated curricula. The bill still suggests those topics — art, health and physical education, engineering, computer science, digital literacy and world languages — be part of students’ educations, and schools would be responsible for the students’ achievement in them. But because they wouldn’t be within the definition of adequacy, the state could presumably then refuse to fund them. That would go a long way toward bringing the financial responsibility for what the state defines as an “adequate” education from the roughly $11,000 per student ConVal and other districts are demanding in their lawsuit against the state down closer to the $3,700 or so the state actually provides.

And it would further erode the quality of education in the state’s public schools, pushing more and more parents to seek placement of their kids in private schools — paid for with public school funds, of course. In other words, it’s just the latest case of state officials trying to weasel out of the responsibility to educate the children of the Granite State in a way that’s fair to all communities.

Fortunately, the House Education Committee saw through the ruse, and voted 18-1 to gut the bill through a wholesale rewrite that would pretty much leave the definition as it is, except to add personal finance literacy to the core subjects, provide more detail of social studies topics and designate computer literacy and rhetoric as secondary topics that must be taught.

Tuesday, the full House approved that amended version without debate.

Absent the sort of legislative hijinks in the Senate that both parties have been guilty of to resurrect “dead in the water” legislation in recent years, HB 1671 now stands to improve public education in New Hampshire, rather than eviscerate it.

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