School funding study commission is taking shape

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Bruce Mallory, project director for the Carsey School of Public Policy, which will work with the Commission to Study School Funding, explains his organization’s proposal to commission members Monday in the Legislative Office Building. Photo/Garry Rayno

CONCORD, NH — The Commission to Study School Funding expects to work with the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy and the National Conference of State Legislatures in reviewing and developing a new education funding formula.

The commission has less than a year to develop a more equitable formula to distribute state aid to schools.

The commission will vote on the Carsey School proposal to help with its including technical support, research, public engagement and communications at its next meeting Feb. 3.

If approved, the school would receive the commission’s $500,000 appropriation approved in the two-year state operating budget in September.

The sponsor of the bill to establish the commission to review the current education funding system, to establish the cost of an adequate education and develop a more equitable funding formula, Mel Myler, D-Hopkinton, said Monday at the commission’s meeting that public engagement is critical to the commission’s work.

He noted a commission he served on two years ago did not address the statewide education property tax, donor communities or disparity issues, and those are important parts of the commission’s study.

“These studies are usually done by legislative committees,” Myler said. “They go back to the legislature to go on the shelf of indecision or defeated because they do not have community engagement along the way.”

The recommendations are unknown, he said, but “with community engagement, people say, ‘We helped to create this because of our input.’”

The project director for the Carsey School, Bruce Mallory, told the commission the plan would include community forums with key stakeholders such as school and municipal officials, teachers, parents, students, business leaders and senior citizens, a recommendation from commission member Sen. Joe Morgan, D-Brentwood.

Commission member June Bergeron-Beaulie asked if charter schools and how they are affected by education funding would be included in the Carsey School’s work.

Commission chair Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton, said charter schools are public schools that receive public funding.

“We need to address charter schools as well,” he said.

Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, said the proposal from Carsey ends with the final report due Dec. 1, but he sees a need for additional public engagement and education to help people understand whatever the commission recommends.

Mallory said the budget for the project “could be stretched” to allow more public discourse after the deadline.

Luneau said as he did at the commission’s first meeting, they have to determine what the problems are and what the priorities are before embarking on the search for a solution. “We have to identify the problems we face,” he said, “not run after a solution.”
There is a lot on the line for the commission and the university system, he said. “I am confident the relationship is in place to accomplish that.”

Others were concerned about the way lawmakers have approached education funding in the past, looking at spreadsheets and how much money the communities they represent would receive.

“We have to look at the common good of all the students in the state,” said commission member Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill. “That is a difficult task to achieve.”

He said somehow the commission has to overcome education policy by spread sheet.

Public member Bill Ardinger said they have to define the problem they are trying to solve.

“If every child, no matter where they live, is getting access to a good education and (ample) opportunities,” Ardinger said, “maybe the town-to-town comparisons would not be so important.”

This is the third commission established to determine the cost of an adequate education and the most equitable method to distribute state education aid.

The commission was included in one of a series of education funding bills introduced last session to address inequity issues with the current education funding system and the reduction in stabilization grants to school districts.

The commission is scheduled to meet the first three Mondays in February.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com