The State of New Hampshire is again being sued for failing to adequately fund its public education system – this time by the city of Dover. On August 20, lawyers for the city of Dover lodged a complaint in Strafford County Superior Court seeking to have a state statutory funding cap declared unconstitutional and about $14 million in funds withheld from the city under that cap turned over immediately. Dover v. State of New Hampshire.
The statutory funding cap at issue in the case, RSA 198:41, was developed by the legislature in response to the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s decision in the Claremont School District v. Governor line of cases in the 1990s. There, the Court interpreted the education clause in the state constitution as imposing upon the state the duty to provide every child in the state a “constitutionally adequate education” and to “provide adequate education.” The legislature revamped its funding scheme in the wake of the Claremont decisions, and many of the changes benefited low income districts, but in 2011 it also placed a cap on the increase in the amount of state adequacy aid that districts could receive. In 2011, that cap limited increases to no more than 105.5% of the total aid received in the prior fiscal year. In 2013, that cap was raised to 108%. The city of Dover alleges that this cap deprives its students, and students in other districts with enrollment growth, of funding needed to provide them an adequate education. Dover claims that it has been deprived of $14 million since the state first implemented the cap.
According to the complaint, 79 municipalities in the state are detrimentally affected by this cap. Dover is asking the court to declare the funding cap unconstitutional to return the $14 million withheld under the cap to the city, and to preliminarily and permanently forbid the state from enforcing the funding cap.