N.H. COURT INVALIDATES STATE’S METHODOLOGY FOR DETERMINING THE COST OF AN ADEQUATE EDUCATION

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N.H. COURT INVALIDATES STATE’S METHODOLOGY FOR DETERMINING THE COST OF AN ADEQUATE EDUCATION

Holding that New Hampshire’s current per-pupil funding levels are “unconstitutional as applied to the Petitioning school districts,” Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff last month held that the state legislature must re-analyze the actual cost of providing New Hampshire students an adequate education.  Contoocook Valley School District [ConVal]v. State. The ConVal school district and three other New Hampshire school districts had filed a complaint alleging that the state’s $3,636.06 base cost per pupil in its state aid formula is totally inadequate, that no school in the entire state provides education for that amount and that ConVal’s actual per student cost is $18, 901.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court had previously ruled that New Hampshire students have a constitutional right to a State-funded adequate public education.  Londonderry Sch. Dist. v. State, (2006); Claremont Sch. Dist. v. Governor (1993). In the present case, the court rejected the State’s argument that students in the petitioning school districts are, in fact, receiving an adequate education because local taxes are adequately supplementing state funding. Judge Ruoff emphasized that “The fundamental right articulated in Claremont II encompasses more than simply receiving an education that meets the definition of adequate education; it is a right to a State-funded adequate education.”

The current base adequacy amount was established by a report of a Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Costing an Adequate Education in 2008; inflationary adjustments to their findings have been made since that time. Petitioners challenged the Committee’s determinations in regard to actual costs for transportation, facilities, teacher pupil ratios, teacher benefits, nurses, superintendent services, and food services.

After analyzing the process the Joint Committee utilized to make its cost determinations, the court held that “the Joint Committee’s costing of an “adequate education” did not comport with the State’s definition of an “adequate education,” and that it was inconsistent with Board of Education regulations and sound judgment. In particular, the court held that the State was unconstitutionally failing to fully fund transportation costs for all students, unconstitutionally failing to fully fund facilities costs and unconstitutionally failing to fund the costs of teachers at proper teacher-student ratios. In doing so, it rejected the state’s motion to dismiss the case and granted, in part, the Petitioner’s motion for summary judgment by invalidating the core cost analysis statute. The Court declined, however, to determine itself the cost of an adequate education and left that task for further legislative action.

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