NH Supreme Court Confirms That A Cap On Adequacy Grants To Public Schools Is Unconstitutional
Since New Hampshire’s landmark school funding decision in 1993, known as the Claremont Decision, state and local municipalities have been battling over adequate funding for our public schools.
In the 2009-2010 legislative session, the legislature instituted a cap on how much the state would increase school funding to cities and towns. This cap meant that after a few years rapidly growing cities like Dover were no longer receiving adequate funding based on the number of students enrolled in the district. Dover says the cap resulted in a loss of over $14 million dollars over the last seven years.
Andru Volinsky, who was lead council in the Claremont Decision, took Dover’s case to the State Supreme Court. Yesterday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court confirmed that the cap on education funding to public schools was unconstitutional.
“The importance of the case goes well beyond the payment of $1.5 million to city of Dover taxpayers and another $10 million to about 40 other communities,” said Andru Volinsky. “The state Legislature sought to ignore the constitutional mandate to fairly fund schools as their predecessors did 25 years ago in the Claremont School Funding case. The decision reaffirms that the constitutional requirement to fairly fund schools remains a state responsibility that the courts will carefully oversee.’
“Legislative indifference to the needs of school children and local property tax payers did not carry the day even though that is what the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, as intervenors, wanted to protect,” Volinsky added.
After the ruling was sent out, Governor Maggie Hassan had this to say:
“When this case was originally filed last year, I agreed with the Attorney General’s determination that the funding levels for certain school districts in Fiscal Year 2016 were not legally defensible. The Superior Court’s decision today reaffirms the validity of concerns raised by communities about school funding levels as well as the Attorney General’s original determination.”
“Meeting our obligations to local school districts is critical to ensuring the strong public education system necessary to helping our students develop the skills needed for success in the innovation economy. With a strengthening economy and a strong revenue surplus, I supported legislation earlier this year that would have addressed the concerns raised by communities, and I continue to be disappointed that the legislature did not come together to do the right thing for our students by fully funding adequacy in these districts. I continue to call on the legislature to meet our state’s obligation to pay these districts the money they are owed under the law, and my door is open to legislative leadership from both parties to discuss a way forward,” concluded Hassan.
Senator David Watters of Dover introduced legislation in 2013 that recognized the injustice of the adequacy cap and raised the limit. He introduced legislation in 2015 and 2016 to lift the cap completely, while working successfully to eliminate the cap in FY18
“I applaud the decision of the Superior Court and urge Senate President Morse and Speaker Jasper to forgo appeal and provide the funding as quickly as possible. It is far past time for the State to fulfill its constitutional duty to fund education adequacy fairly and fully,” said Watters
“With this ruling, Dover and students in other communities will no longer be shortchanged. I agree with the Governor: funding be provided immediately. If legislation is needed to provide the funding, I am prepared to introduce a bill as early as the Senate veto session on September 29,” Watters added.
Senator Watters has worked closely with Mayor Weston, the Dover City Council, and the Dover School Board to fight for Dover’s funding. Senator Watters remarked: “Mayor Weston and city officials have fought tirelessly for our schools, and I am glad that our teamwork has culminated in this victory.”
Volinsky echoed Sen, Watters sentiment by adding, “The City of Dover, Mayor Weston and the members of the City Council, the Dover School Board, Sen. David Watters, and the Dover delegation to the House are all to be commended for their courage in challenging this latest effort to circumvent constitutional responsibilities and downshift to local communities the state’s duty to fairly fund education.”
Featured image of Dover City Hall by Alexius Horatius CC 2.0