Costing Out |
In 1999, New Hampshire changed its school funding system
to include a statewide property tax, in response to
rulings by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in Claremont
School District v. Governor, 635 A.2d 1375 (1993)
(Claremont I), Claremont v. Governor,
703 A.2d 1353 (1997) (Claremont II), and Claremont
v. Governor, 744 A.2d 1107 (1999) (Claremont
In Claremont I, the court held that the New
Hampshire Constitution "imposes a duty on the State
to provide a constitutionally adequate education to
every educable child and to guarantee adequate funding"
and remanded the case for trial. The court also noted
that the legislature and the governor have the responsibility
to define "the specifics of" an adequate education.
In Claremont II, the court declared the then
current education finance system unconstitutional because
it violated the state constitution's requirement that
all state taxes be "proportional and reasonable."
Under that system, taxpayers in lower wealth school
districts paid as much as four times the local property
tax rate of those in higher wealth districts. The court
also ordered the state to follow a four-part remedy:
define a constitutionally adequate education; determine
the cost of such an education; fund an adequate education
throughout the state; and ensure its delivery through
an accountability system.
In 1998, consultants hired by a legislative commission
report on the cost of an adequate education in New
Hampshire. The report offered four alternatives based
on the average operating expenditures in successful
districts. The legislature revised the funding system
by choosing the alternative that produced the lowest
cost basis, subtracting 10%, and not including a provision
for inflation in future years.
In 2000, consultants hired by another legislative commission
more limited study of educational costs. The legislature
adopted some of the study’s recommendations in
its changes to the funding system in 2005.
In 2001, plaintiffs returned
to the supreme court, claiming that the state's
new funding system remained unconstitutional and that
the state had not complied with the court's 1997 remedial
order. After briefing and oral argument, the court ordered
the state to hold
school districts accountable for both inputs and
outcomes, in Claremont v. Governor, 794
A.2d 744 (2002). The state promptly enacted an accountability
Londonderry v. State
Several school districts that lost revenue after the
2005 changes to the state’s school funding system
filed suit, and in 2006, the trial court granted
plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. On
appeal, the supreme court affirmed
the lower court’s finding that the state had
failed to define an adequate education, ordered the
state to do so by June 30, 2007, and stayed action on
other issues because they flow from the definition.
The New Hampshire Legislature met the June 30 deadline.
The new adequacy definition provides content standards
that schools have to meet and requires all school districts
to offer an opportunity to attend kindergarten to every
student. Thirteen New Hampshire districts do not currently
offer kindergarten to all students.
The legislation also directs a legislative committee
to identify “enhanced needs” schools and
propose additional resources for those schools. While
the original definition proposed in the Senate would
have required lawmakers to direct specific additional
resources to “enhanced needs” schools, a
compromise with the House scaled this back. In addition,
a new committee, made up of lawmakers and a representative
from the Governor’s office, issued a new study
for determining the cost of an adequate education under
the new definition on February 1, 2008.
After the Londonderry ruling, Governor Lynch
proposed a constitutional amendment that would have
limited the authority of the judicial branch in regards
to school funding. The state House overwhelmingly rejected
the amendment in early June 2007, but the governor has
revived the constitutional amendment and is again pressing
the legislature to adopt the amendment in its 2008 session.
On October 15, 2008, the New Hampshire Supreme Court
dismissed Londonderry Sch. Dist. v. State, 958 A. 2d
930 ( N.H. 2008). The court terminated its jurisdiction
on the grounds that the case was now moot since the
particular statute that the plaintiffs had attacked
in their 2005 complaint had now been replaced. Plaintiffs
maintained that the revised funding system is still
unconstitutional, but the court held that they would
need to file a new action to litigate these issues.
In mid-March, the New Hampshire House passed, with a 252-113 vote, a constitutional amendment intended to give the Legislature full discretion on school aid, effectively shutting the judicial branch out of school finance decisions. The bill must now be considered by the Senate and, if approved, will go to the voters in 2012, who will have to approve it by a 2/3 vote. The amendment aims to remove the courts from school funding decisions. It provides that, “the legislature shall define standards for education, determine the level of state funding thereof, establish standards of accountability, and allocate state funds in a manner that mitigates disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity, provided that a reasonable share of state funds shall be distributed on a per pupil basis.”
Drew Dunphy, Moving Mountains in the Granite State:
Reforming School Finance and Defining Adequacy in New
Hampshire (Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. March 2001)
Last Updated: March, 2011