Several school districts are suing New Hampshire, alleging their state fails to meet the constitutional obligation to adequately fund public education.
Even though both state and local funds come from the taxpayers, the Contoocook Valley School District (ConVal) – and 19 other districts joining the suit – believe the state is shirking its duty to adequately fund public education.
According to the NH School Funding Fairness Project, the state provides $3,800 per pupil, leaving local taxes to cover the remaining 70% of funding.
The lawsuit was initially filed in 2019, was remanded by the Supreme Court in 2021, and a trial finally began in this month.
One of the named defendants, New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, maintains the it is the Legislature’s responsibility to determine what is adequate in terms of funding education.
“The amount of funds that are provided to the district public school is determined by the Legislature,” he said during testimony. “I am not sure what the components are that the Legislature considers when they come up with that number.”
When pressed by the plaintiff’s attorney, the commissioner reaffirmed that it is the job of lawmakers to decide how much funding public schools require.
“I don’t have responsibility for determining what an adequate education is,” said Edelblut. “The Legislature makes that determination, and we implement what the Legislature determines.”
The issue of funding formulas is becoming prominent as teachers’ unions, the education establishment, and Democratic lawmakers nationwide perpetually demand more tax dollars for the often-failing public school systems.
In the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, a similar lawsuit found the state’s funding formula unconstitutional for disadvantaging poorer districts.
However, New Hampshire’s case is different, as its public education system is already one of the most expensive in the country. Public schools in the state spend an average of more than $19,000 per pupil – well above the national average of $12,612.
That’s more expensive than the average tuition to attend private school.
Private elementary schools cost roughly $11,000 per student while the average private high school costs nearly $16,000, Education Data Initiative reports.
Additionally, The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy found that New Hampshire public education has lost students over the past two decades but increased spending by nearly $1 billion, after adjusting for inflation.
“New Hampshire taxpayers have lavished funding on district public schools at rates that far exceed spending increases on other government services,” researchers wrote.
“The big picture is that during the first two decades of this century New Hampshire spent 40% more to educate 14% fewer students, and those students would up doing slightly worse in reading and math,” they concluded.