School officials urge N.H. lawmakers to get experts' advice
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire school officials on Monday urged lawmakers charged with determining the cost of the state's share of public education to seek help — from them or from national experts.
Rick Trombly, spokesman for the National Education Association's New Hampshire chapter, said national experts could give lawmakers valuable guidance as they apply a cost to the definition of a constitutionally adequate education they enacted in June.
Deciding what to include in the cost "is like trying to pick up mercury," said Trombly.
The House-Senate committee was established in June to determine the cost of a constitutionally adequate education based on a new definition. The committee must issue a report by Feb. 1 on how to determine the cost, how to help schools without kindergarten provide it and how to provide more help to needier schools.
On Monday, several organizations and members of the public offered suggestions on which of several costing methods should be considered. The committee decided last week to use a statistical model that legislative or Education Department staff might be able to cost out.
But Trombly and others suggested using more than one method to arrive at a cost, arguing that each method has flaws.
Steve Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, said regardless of which method is used, lawmakers will be making assumptions that can dramatically affect the cost. The variation among states undergoing similar exercises has ranged from no increase in aid in Texas to 40 percent increases in other states.
"Multiple methodologies is the best approach to meet judicial muster," he said.
Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, offered a funding model produced in 2004 as part of a a grass-roots educational effort emphasizing the total cost of public education.
At the time, his association — as part of the New Hampshire Citizens' Voice Project — concluded an additional $425 million was needed to pay the basic school costs for every pupil. The project's estimate of the basic amount of per pupil aid needed was almost double what the state was distributing.
Joyce said the figures most likely have changed, but the framework used could be of help to the committee. The group based its funding estimate on four basic components needed to provide an education: staff such as teachers and aides, buildings, transportation to and from school and administration.
Like Trombly, Joyce recommended using more than one model to determine a cost.
"We don't believe there is one best method," said Joyce.
States are using four main methods to determine the cost of an adequate education:
— Professional judgment approach in which a panel of experts decides the necessary components (such as staff, equipment, programs) and determines the cost. This is similar to the approach Joyce's group took.
— Expert judgment approach. Similar to professional judgment approach but experts base recommendations on practices proven effective by research.
— Advanced statistical approach. The thesis is a cost can be determined with enough statistics about educational expenses and student characteristics. Technically complex, the approach has had limited use.
— Successful schools approach. This approach identifies schools that meet state standards and deems their spending adequate. The premise is that any school should be able to accomplish what successful schools do by spending the same amount. New Hampshire used a hybrid of this approach, but dropped it two years ago.
The committee is considering using a fifth approach — legislative cost analysis — using readily available statistics. The approach is relatively new.
Dean Michener, speaking for the state's school boards, cautioned lawmakers not to forget the middle income towns in calculating the cost because they serve most of the state's schoolchildren.
In the past, lawmakers have focused on the concerns of the poorest and wealthiest towns.
"While a lot of attention can be addressed to the handful of communities at either end of the spectrum, the bulk are in the middle," said Michener.
Other witnesses urged the committee to consider the needs of gifted and disabled students.
On the Net: Recent Kansas study of legislative cost analysis: