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.
Education Funding It is more good news that the budget restored the Education Trust Fund, which acts as a protected spending account for education money in the state budget. The bad news is it also included the state’s school voucher program in the Education Trust Fund, so overspending in that chronically overbudget program means even less for our cash strapped neighborhood public schools.
The budget also contains the Senate school funding formula, which is worse for the majority of our neighborhood public schools than the House version. The Senate formula focuses almost entirely on per pupil aid. In the Senate version even the Extraordinary Needs Grants, which are supposed to help districts with low property tax bases be able to run schools and provide all the teachers, staff and resources needed for students to learn and thrive, are limited to the number of students within a district receiving free and reduced-price meals. These districts have been underfunded for so long that all of the students in the school need extra support in people and resources to learn and thrive, yet the state funding formula keeps starving them and either putting huge expense on the shoulders of local taxpayers or forcing the school district to offer the students less than they deserve. This is why we say education funding remains extremely short of where it needs to be for hard-working Granite Staters across the state.
Voucher expansion approved This did not stop anti-education politicians in Concord from increasing the eligibility of the voucher program from 300% to 350% of federal poverty or $105,000 for a family of four. This change could cost the state up to $48 million, that instead of going to our neighborhood public schools will go to the unaccountable, over budget voucher program. Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut estimated that only 218 additional students would join the voucher program as a result of changing the eligibility. He is notoriously bad at estimating. His original estimate of the first-year cost of the voucher program was $129,000, which due to aggressive marketing, including on the NH DOE’s own website, turned out to be wildly off by 5000%. Independent analysis estimates that up to an additional 6295 students currently in private school or being homeschooled are eligible for a voucher by changing the threshold from 300% to 350% of poverty – at a cost of $48 million in additional spending.
That being said, the budget does provide more overall public school funding, and every town and district that gets state funding sees an increase – even if it is small. This budget also increases money for affordable housing, which is important for our teachers and for our state. It also makes many positive changes in childcare reimbursements, healthcare and mental health and continues Medicaid Expansion.
Having an agreement on a budget means that the state can move forward and not operate under a continuing resolution, which affects and hurts all of us.
The legislative session is now about finished. The House and Senate have voted on all bills and now all that is left are bills that have been amended by either body. Over the next couple of weeks, changes to those bills will be settled and then face one final vote (if an agreement can be reached). Later this summer, committees will meet to discuss bills they have retained. In the past we have seen important legislation come out of that process so we will watch closely and let you know if there are any important next steps.
To our members in our neighborhood public schools, you are just about at the finish line. Good luck with the rest of the year and hopefully you have time to relax this summer. And thank you for everything that you do.
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You can also read written testimony submitted to the legislature at STATE HOUSE NEWS.