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NH House votes to change constitution on ed. money


CONCORD, N.H.—The state House voted Wednesday to reverse a landmark 1997 New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling that required the state to adequately fund public education.

The House voted 252-113 to send a proposed constitutional amendment to the Senate, which holds a hearing next week on a similar amendment.

Republican House Speaker William O’Brien proposed the amendment that would give lawmakers discretion to decide how much, if anything, to pay in school aid. O’Brien argues the court stripped local control of education by shifting responsibility to the state from communities.

O’Brien relinquished the podium to speak on his bill, arguing the House had a historic opportunity to end the chaos the court ruling imposed on the state. He argued education decisions should be made at the local level, not by the court.

“The Supreme Court twisted our constitution,” he said.

Opponents argued turning the clock back 14 years will mean increasing local property taxes to make up for lost state aid.

“This will give us unfettered control over what we give to communities,” state Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton, said.

Richardson said it also would shift power to communities with the most votes in the Legislature in deciding the aid distribution.

“If you are a town without votes, you are out of luck,” he said.

O’Brien’s amendment would let lawmakers target aid to the neediest communities and would nullify the court’s ruling requiring the state to provide an adequate education to all public schoolchildren. O’Brien proposes giving the Legislature the authority to define educational standards, determine the amount of state school aid and mitigate disparities among communities.

O’Brien’s amendment is among more than four dozen that have been proposed to address the court’s ruling. It is the first passed by the House.

The state has struggled over the school funding issue for years. In 1991, Claremont and four other property-poor towns sued over the state’s reliance on local property taxes to pay for schools.

The court said in a series of rulings that the state must define an adequate education, pay for it and hold schools accountable for providing sufficient programs. The amount doesn’t have to be the same for every pupil, but the court rejected aid systems that helped only select towns. The state enacted a new aid system funded by a variety of state taxes, anchored by a state education property tax.

O’Brien says his amendment would allow the state to repeal the state property tax and eliminate the need for property-rich towns to send money to the state to be redistributed to poorer towns.

If the state’s education property tax is repealed, communities would have to raise their local property tax rates to make up for any lost aid. In its 1997 ruling, the court had thrown out that system because it relied on widely varying local property taxes to pay for schools and said that was unfair to children in poor communities.

To amend the condition, 60 percent of the House and the Senate must approve the same proposal, which would then have to be approved by two-thirds of state voters. Gov. John Lynch does not have a direct say in whether the amendment passes the Legislature, but the popular governor could influence how voters judge it.

Lynch said Wednesday he supports targeting school aid, but believes the amendment would allow the state to abandon responsibility for public education, which he does not support.


 The legal conflict that the states are facing, especially New Jersey, is that you can’t have a constitutional right to a good, be it education, affordable housing or whatever.  If you have a right to something produced by someone else, then you have the right to use that person’s life to serve your purposes.  In other words, you have the right to violate his rights.  

I’m not saying there is no role for government in education.  But it can’t be a constitutional right.  We need to remove the education clause from New Jersey’s Constitution and get the courts out of it.




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