New Hampshire's Virtual Town Hall
By Taylor Reidy
As a lifetime resident of New Hampshire and a student who has matriculated through the NH public school system, the renewed debate about publicly funded education caught my eye. Tomorrow (Wednesday 6/6), CACR 12, amendment to the NH Constitution, will be up for a vote. While this may not be as widely discussed as the recall of a Governor in the Midwest, after more than a decade of debates over the adequacy of education funding and two NH Supreme Court cases on the disparity of schools systems because of the revenue differences between rich and poor communities, this proposed Constitutional amendment represents a significant shift on this issue.
The proposed amendment provides that:
“… the legislature shall have the full power and authority and the responsibility to define standards for public education, establish standards of accountability, mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity, and have full power and authority to determine the amount of state funding for public education.”
The amendment touches upon a number of issues, such as home rule, the legitimacy of activist courts and the disparity or inequality of funding for local school systems (the full text can be found here).
The debate on the amendment will likely continue along party lines with Republicans looking to move the issue away from the State Supreme Court and Democrats wanted to guarantee equity in education standards and funding.
Interestingly, CACR 12 is being marketed as a compromise between Speaker Bill O’Brien (R-Mont Vernon) and Governor John Lynch (D-Hopkinton). According to the Union Leader, CACR 12 states that the legislature alone will have full “power and authority” to set the guidelines and standards for public education, while emphasizing the “responsibility” of the state to maintain a public education system.
And with a vote coming up, two of the main arguments stem from opposite sides of the matter. The Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire (RLCNH) took issue with the word “responsibility”. As a primarily libertarian organization, they are worried that this amendment would be the source of higher taxation in order to keep schools from falling below the current level of funding (press release here). Further, they argue that the language is much too vague, allowing plenty of room for interpretation and potential intervention again by the NH Supreme Court.
According to Seacoast Online, members of the NH Democratic Party, who are generally against the amendment, simply state that this is not a solution to the problem, but rather a stalling measure with flowery language.
It seems to me that while the language of CACR 12 reflects a compromise, it is a heavy-handed one, in favor of those who want State control over education funding and centralized decisions over the adequacy of education in communities throughout the state. Clearly, Republican leaders are most concerned with taking this issue away from what they view as activist courts, ones that created or exacerbated the debacle with the Claremont I and II cases and later kept this issue before the Court. Republican supporters of the amendment believe that this will finally move the control of education funding away from the courts and back to the legislature.
While that may be true, I would argue that giving the power of educational funding to the state moves away from the objectives of those who support Home Rule initiatives and seek to return educational decisions, such as curriculum design or funding, back to local school boards. This amendment is a step in the right direction, but stopping in Concord makes it clear that a return of these decisions to local control is unlikely.