Summer is upon us, and parents, children and teachers are winding down from what has been an exhausting and fully operational school year—the first since the devastating pandemic. The long-lasting impact of COVID-19 has affected our students’ and families’ well-being and ignited the politics surrounding public schools. All signs point to the coming school year unfolding with the same sound and fury, and if extremist culture warriors have their way, being even more divisive and stressful.
State Budget Approved and Proceeds to Governor
This week’s passage of a state budget by the NH Senate and House is a good news/ bad news story.
The good news is that we have a state budget that delivers more overall funding to neighborhood public schools, increases support for the University System of NH, gives state employees a long overdue raise after years of frozen wages and continues Medicaid expansion for the next 7 years that will help many Granite Staters in need. The bad news is it comes at an opportunity cost. This budget included a huge tax cut for the wealthiest people in the state – so wealthy that only 20 people actually pay it! It also increases eligibility for school vouchers to those who choose to send their children to private schools or homeschool them. Despite the increases in this budget, we still aren’t providing what all our students in every town and district need to learn and thrive. And in many towns, local property taxpayers just can’t make up the difference. The Granite State will remain next to last in state funding of local neighborhood public schools and last in funding of its university system. The expression “no budget is perfect” has been said a lot this week and it is definitely true.
Final Stretch of State Budget Approval Process
State Budget and Education Funding Every single Granite State student, no matter which district they come from, deserves a well-resourced neighborhood public school fully staffed by experienced, caring teachers and well trained paraeducators to support their learning. They also need the whole village of other people who help a student learn and take care of student needs during the school day such as: library media specialists, school counselors, behavior specialists, school nurses, secretaries, administrators, cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers and many others. Those students need a local neighborhood school building in which to learn, with lights, heat, safe water and breathable air that won’t make them sick. They need transportation. They also need curriculum and supplemental learning materials such as: books, computers, digital licenses, paper, whiteboards and markers.
For Immediate Release Contact: Deb Howes
June 1, 2023 email@example.com
CONCORD, N.H.— Today, the Senate Finance Committee voted, along party lines, to send the budget as amended for a full Senate vote next week. AFT-NH President Deb Howes released the following statement:
“Granite Staters want quality neighborhood public schools in every district across the state and taxes they can afford. This budget once again fails to adequately fund our public schools and the 185.00 students who rely on them for a robust education but instead prioritizes tax cuts for the rich and expanding a bloated voucher scheme that is already hugely over budget and lacks any accountability. The accelerated interest and dividends tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy ($116 Million) and the extreme voucher expansion ($48 Million) account for more money than the increase in state funding to our neighborhood public schools in this budget.
New Hampshire citizens and public school advocates have successfully sued the State of New Hampshire over the Legislature’s failure to meet their constitutional obligation to adequately fund public education several times in the past 30 years and won. Several districts are currently in court fighting another case right now. Instead of favoring the ultra-rich and expanding an unaccountable voucher program, the Senate should focus on the needs of all Granite Staters including better education funding. There are 165,000 public school students and their families who are waiting for a better answer than the education funding formula passed by Senate Finance.
Education Funding and Vouchers are on the Docket
While 165,000 public school students wait for the State of NH to fulfil its constitutional obligation to fund an adequate public education in a fair manner no matter where a student lives in the Granite State, the NH Senate continues working on the state budget.
School Funding Back in the Spotlight This week as the Senate Finance Committee brought an amendment to the budget that once again changes the funding formula. The Senate formula increases per pupil adequacy aid a little, increases aid based on free and reduced lunch and to towns with low property tax bases. It is an improvement from the current funding formula but falls short of the formula the House passed last month. The senate is not done yet—an amendment will be brought to increase the so-called “hold harmless” money for cities and towns so no community in New Hampshire will receive less than they currently do.
Here is what we do know about school funding—as the State struggles to properly fund our neighborhood public schools the state is poised to dramatically increase funding for New Hampshire’s school voucher program. The Senate Finance Committee still hasn’t taken action on HB 367 which raises the cap on the voucher program from 300% to 350%. This change may seem small but this makes a family of 4 earning $105,000 a year eligible for a taxpayer funded state education voucher to spend on private school, homeschooling or any other education related expense they choose. Most students using state education vouchers were already in private schools or being homeschooled so they were not costing taxpayers anything. According to Reaching Higher New Hampshire, expanding this program to 350% of the poverty level will cost $48 million dollars each year.
New Hampshire has a constitutional duty to provide an adequate public education and while our commissioner may not be able to define what that means, we know that the state is currently failing at achieving that goal and failing to make sure our students have what they need to learn and thrive in their public schools, and local property taxpayers are left footing the bill. Now instead of using this budget cycle to work to increase funding and move the state towards funding an adequate public education, we could see more funding for a voucher program that is already over budget and has not proven to be an effective educational tool in New Hampshire.
ACTION REQUEST There’s still time to take action on the voucher expansion bills. If you haven’t already done so, please take a few minutes between now and Tuesday to contact the Senate Finance Committee.
NH House Rejects So-Called Parental Bill of Rights
NH House Delivers Huge Victory This week as the so-called Parental Bill of Rights was not just defeated but a vote was taken to “indefinitely postpone” the bill. What does that mean? On an Inexpedient to Legislate vote, the bill could come back next year as long as it was deemed substantially different than the current version by the Speaker. On an indefinite postponement vote nothing can come back that even discusses the subject. This effectively means this bill is not only dead for this year but for next.
A deep breath can be let out by students, parents and school staff who want to make sure every child is protected, and that school staff can continue to build a safe and welcoming environment for all students. A big thank you to everyone who took action on this bill over the last many months. Your support made a difference today in this vote, and in the lives of Granite State Families.