State of the States
Amendment Sought to Help Neediest Districts on Funding
Gov. John Lynch, in his Jan. 5 inaugural address, called for a constitutional amendment allowing New Hampshire to target school funding to the communities that need it most.
The proposal by the Democratic governor, who was elected to a second term in November, is aimed at putting an end to a school finance dispute that has raged in the state for 15 years. In September, the New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected the state’s latest attempt to solve the problem by striking down a 1-year-old aid system that relied on a statewide property tax to channel dollars to needier districts. The court’s decision prompted some frustrated legislators to push for a constitutional amendment to remove the court’s jurisdiction over school finance issues.
However, Gov. Lynch said in his speech that he had in mind a narrower constitutional change, one that would reaffirm the state’s responsibility to schools and permit a targeted funding formula. Also, in keeping with the justices’ ruling, he said lawmakers and other policymakers should define what constitutes an “adequate education” under the state constitution.
“I believe most people in New Hampshire and in this legislature would agree that we should target aid to the children and communities that need it most,” he said.
Mr. Lynch ruled out imposing a sales or income tax to pay for the new system, and gave no other details on how the state would pay for schools. The supreme court, in its ruling last year, threatened to step in if the state failed to come up with a solution to the funding problem by this summer.
On another education issue, the governor renewed his call for raising the state’s compulsory school attendance age to 18, from 16, to stem a state dropout rate of 20 percent. A similar proposal by Gov. Lynch failed to make it through the state’s Republican-controlled legislature last year. But control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives turned over to the Democrats after the elections in November, enhancing the proposal’s prospects for passage.
Mr. Lynch also called for expanding alternative-learning programs for high school students and doubling the number of high school students allowed to take college-level courses in their own schools.
Vol. 26, Issue 18, Page 18