Local towns could receive millions in boosted education grants under proposed Senate budget

  • Conant High School (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) File photo—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript...

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/17/2019 9:11:05 PM

The State Senate has passed a budget that provides for $94 million additional education grant funding, plus $40 million in shared revenue – money which could flow into local school districts.

“This is the greatest state investment in public schools in almost two decades, targeted toward needy districts, including Jaffrey-Rindge, ConVal, Monadnock Regional, Mascenic and Wilton-Lyndeborough,” wrote Democratic Senator Jeanne Dietsch in an email last week. 

On June 6, the Senate passed their version of the budget, which included about $94 million more than current levels going to local school districts through per-pupil education grand and stabilization grants. 

While the Senate’s version of the budget gives a significant increase from the current law, it doesn’t go as far as the House of Representative’s proposed budget, which would have increased education grants by a total of about $165.4 million. 

Under the Senate’s proposed budget, education aid will be directed more to communities in which there are low property values per student. 

Also, the Senate plan would release $40 million in unrestricted revenue to towns, based upon student population. Towns could use the funds to lower property taxes or for other purposes.

Dietsch said Monday the $40 million is one-time revenue from businesses coming back to the United States from overseas, due to changes in the federal tax code enacted by President Donald Trump.

The additional $94 million in education grants came from anticipated increases in the rooms and meals tax and business profits tax, among other sources, Dietsch said. For the past several years, the legislature has voted to reduce education stabilization grants by about 4 percent per year, and these funds restore those grants to 2016 levels. 

Analysis of the budget approved by the Senate completed last week broke down how much individual school districts would get, under the Senate budget over the next two years. 

Between revenue redistribution and education grants, ConVal towns are anticipated to receive about an additional $2 million over the next two years, if the Senate budget passes.

Mascenic towns could anticipate about $1.4 million, Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative $1.2 million, and the Mason School District $62,711.

The boost comes on the heels of a June 5 decision by the Cheshire County Superior Court judge that says the state is not funding an adequate education to the ConVal, Mascenic, Monadnock and Winchester school districts.

The four school districts took the state to court earlier this year saying the state was not living up to its constitutional requirement to adequately fund education. Which the judge agreed with, but said it is up to the legislature to solve the problem.

Currently, the state provides a base adequacy aid of $3,562 per student, when the actual average cost of educating children in New Hampshire is about $18,900 per student.

Karen Hatcher, who is a member of the Select Board Advisory Committee for ConVal and a member of the New Hampshire School Funding Fairness Project, said while an improvement, it doesn’t go all the way to address funding inadequacy.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but the Senate budget is about 70 million less than what the House proposed,” Hatcher said. “It’s more money than we had, which is good, but I would have preferred to see the House number.”

Hatcher said compared to the ConVal gross budget, which was about $48 million for the 2019-20 year, the amount in additional aid ConVal would receive over the next two years is only a small amount.

“It’s small, but it’s something,” Hatcher said.  

Dietsch said the House focused its education funding on Kindergarten through high school, and the Senate budget took a wider scope, using some of those funds for early education, community college, university funding, and fully funding the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

“I’m very happy with what we’ve done on education,” Dietsch said.

However, Dietsch agreed the legislature still needs to do work to close the gap between its current offerings and the needs of local schools. There is a proposal for a state commission to help better define what an adequate education consists of, and to find a way to fund it.

“We have to come up with a fair system,” Dietsch said.

“The Senate budget is equitable, prioritizes the issues that Granite Staters care about, and has big benefits for Peterborough families,” said Senate President Donna Soucy (D-Manchester), in a press release issued by the State Senate on Thursday. “From providing revenue redistribution to municipalities to improving education funding, it’s a budget that works for everyone.”

Before the amounts are finalized, however, the state needs to agree on a final budget. 

The two halves of the legislature are currently working together to agree to a budget, which Dietsch said would likely be reached by the end of the week. 

The budget then must then be passed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu, who has said the budget may be under threat of a veto as it is now.

On May 31, when the Senate Finance Committee voted on the budget to be presented to the Senate, Sununu criticized the budget as a whole as increasing taxes, including an income tax and containing a structural deficit, saying these elements were “irresponsible, unnecessary and unprecedented,” and he’s been clear in the past these things would trigger a veto.

The Senate’s budget also includes about $1 million for improving substance use disorder treatment and recovery housing facilities, fully funds the Department of Children, Youth and Families to increase staffing levels, and increases Medicaid reimbursement rates.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT. 




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