Since the election last November, Senate Democrats have worked hard to implement our Granite State Opportunity Plan to build an economy that works for everyone and provides Granite Staters with the opportunities and resources they need to thrive. That starts with ensuring every New Hampshire child has access to a high-quality public education.
Again and again we hear from students, teachers, and municipal governments that more support from the state is needed to lessen the growing burden property-tax payers face. New Hampshire must reverse the trend of downshifting costs from the state to cities, towns, and school districts in order to guarantee that a student’s zip code is not the primary determinant of the education they receive.
New Hampshire’s state Constitution spells out that priority: “Knowledge and learning, generally diffused through a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; and spreading the opportunities and advantages of education …”
To this end, House and Senate budget writers worked diligently this session to put New Hampshire on a path to restore state education funding, after cuts at the state level led to local property-tax increases over the past three years. The Legislature boosted state funding for local public schools by $138 million for the next biennium by fully funding full-day kindergarten, reinstituting fiscal disparity aid and providing full stabilization payments. Additional funds were appropriated to fully fund state special education aid and increase career and technical education. Funds were included to establish a commission to study long-term funding of education, including pre-K funding. Our budget also made appropriations to freeze in-state tuition at our community colleges and our university system. Each of these provisions supports our opportunity agenda and benefits New Hampshire taxpayers and working families.
When the governor vetoed the Legislature’s budget, he also vetoed the largest public education investment in almost two decades.
Recently, Gov. Sununu floated a “compromise” proposal to school districts. While we’re grateful he finally included full funding for full-day kindergarten, we agree with Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier that the governor’s failure to fully fund stabilization grants and his preference to provide one-time spending increases instead of sustainable aid to school districts is “unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Sununu is working to further undermine public education by shifting control over student learning away from local school districts.
State law consistently defines school boards as responsible for approving curriculum for students attending their schools. Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut’s “Learn Everywhere” campaign, championed by the governor, bypasses local control and preempts the opportunity for school districts to decide what works best for their students by giving the state Board of Education sole authority to approve alternative education programs — a role in conflict with current state statutes.
The notion that the N.H. Department of Education can arrange courses with providers that local school districts can opt into would add value. But that’s not what Learn Everywhere rules define; the rules intrude on local control by stating that a student can take any course approved by the state board and the school district must accept it as credit toward graduation. Costs and opportunities are dependent on location — that’s why local decision making is so important to make sure the programs actually make it easier and less expensive for students to discover pathways into career and technical and higher education, instead of exacerbating inequities.
Senate Democrats spearheaded efforts this year to push back on this attempt to usurp local control of school curriculum. Senate Bill 140 clarified the role local school districts play in granting credit for extended learning opportunities. At the Senate committee hearing on the bill, 21 people testified in support of SB 140. No one spoke in opposition. It passed the Senate unanimously on a voice vote and garnered a bipartisan vote in the House. Despite broad-based support for local control of education, Gov. Sununu vetoed SB 140.
Across New Hampshire, school is now back in session. Our students can’t wait any longer for officials in Concord to do the right thing. During the current continuing resolution, school districts will receive stabilization grant payments 4 percent lower than last year, and are making decisions about whether to cut programs and staff positions. And municipalities may soon have to set tax rates without the proposed state aid, which means property tax bills will be higher.
It’s time for Gov. Sununu to support meaningful progress on education funding in a budget resolution and it’s time for legislators to overturn the veto of SB 140, making clear that the state board is responsible for setting policy and local districts are responsible for approving programs and expanding student opportunity.