AFT-NH Testimony on HB 441
From Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH
Thank you, Chairperson Ladd and Members of the House Education Committee, for reading my testimony.
My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers-NH. AFT-NH represents 4,000 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees and higher education faculty across New Hampshire. My members work with approximately 29,000 of the 165,000 public school students in New Hampshire in one way or another. I am writing today in opposition to HB441, eliminating residency requirements for public school attendance.
We often say that all Granite State students should have access to a great public education regardless of which zip code they live in, and we mean it. New Hampshire has a long tradition of cherishing public education. It is so important, we enshrined public education in our constitution. Despite cherishing public education, New Hampshire has a problem with how it funds public education, as the courts have found repeatedly. And that is where the problem with this proposal comes in. NH ranks last in state funding for public schools. In fact, out of every dollar spent by a local school district, about $0.64 comes from local property taxes, $0.31 comes from state funding and the remaining $0.05 comes from federal funding, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
One of the reasons New Hampshire’s education funding system is so problematic is because it creates huge disparities in opportunity for what you can get in your public education. Some towns have a large number of high value properties compared to the number of students who need to be educated. They are able to more easily raise money to keep class sizes low, invest in the latest science and technology equipment and provide enriching arts and humanities experiences. Property poor towns struggle to fund education, with few high value properties supporting the education of many students, including many with nonacademic needs that must be met before they are able to focus on learning, and it leaves their students at a disadvantage.
However, the solution to this problem is to fix the funding formula so that each and every public school in the state is able to provide students with a great education. We need to have the state better fund our public schools so New Hampshire stops being last in the nation in funding. Simply removing the residency requirement from our local neighborhood schools, moves students around, creating instability and unpredictability. Schools would have no idea how many students to budget for in the next year, and therefore would have great difficulty tailoring programs and supports to meet students’ needs. You run the risk of students leaving their home school district for another towns’ school because it has a reputation as being a good school. This could easily leave one school with far too few students to function and the other school, the one with the “quality reputation” now hugely overpopulated, leading to larger class sizes, a higher student to teacher ratio and struggling to meet students’ needs. This scenario does not help students from either town.
Granite State students deserve a great public education. They are the future of our communities and our state! If we are to live up to the commitment we have made in our constitution to cherish public education, New Hampshire must solve its public education funding problem. Last in the nation is not where we should be on state funding of our public schools, and it is not what Granite state students deserve. HB 441 is not a solution: it would lead to some schools succeeding while others struggle, actually accelerating the inequities we have now. We urge you to vote ITL on this bill.
President, AFT-New Hampshire