by Edward Mosca

This coming week, the House is set to take up a so-called bipartisan constitutional amendment on education funding. But the amendment is bipartisan only in the sense that it is supported by both Democrat and Republican House members. As far as the substance is concerned, the amendment is totally one-sided in the Democrats’ favor.

Essentially, the amendment writes the Supreme Court’s misbegotten Claremont/Londonderry decisions into the State Constitution. More specifically, the Legislature would be required to define an adequate education, determine its cost, and fund the cost exclusively with state taxes. All of this would be done under the highest level of judicial oversight.

What this means is that anybody can go to court at any time and sue the Legislature on the grounds that it hasn’t properly defined an adequate education and/or that it hasn’t set the cost high enough, and it will be the Legislature’s burden to prove otherwise. As a practical matter, unelected judges will have the ultimate say on what is taught in the public schools, how it is taught, and how much we are taxed to pay for it.

According to Republican policy leader Gene Chandler, this amendment “meets our Republican ideals.” If Chandler and other Republican “leaders” really believe that the education mandarins in Concord can make better education policy than local school boards, teachers and parents, and that unelected judges should have the ultimate say on the curriculum and cost of public education, to paraphrase Obi-Wan, “Well then they are truly lost.”

If this amendment passes, say goodbye forever to local control. The education mandarins in Concord would determine what the locals should be paying for public education. And those school districts that did not receive full funding would have to make up the difference through the local property tax.

And say hello to a broad-based tax. Because the amendment envisions the Supreme Court having the final say on the cost of an adequate education, anybody can run into Court and claim that the $1 billion the Legislature has determined an adequate education costs is “inadequate.” If the Court agrees, the amendment requires the Legislature to pay for whatever the Court says the cost is.

The only tweak to Londonderry/Claremont is that the Legislature would not have to distribute funding on a comparable per pupil basis. However, at the insistence of House Republican leadership the amendment also provides “every school district shall receive a meaningful share of these funds.” In other words, no town, no matter how affluent, can be denied a “meaningful” spot at the education funding trough. Let the feeding frenzy begin!

The so-called bipartisan amendment is not just antithetical to “Republican ideals”, it is also really stupid politics.

Republicans are going to lose, not gain, votes in the 2008 election by supporting this amendment. Voters who believe that unelected, elitist judges should be running our public schools aren’t going to suddenly switch their affiliation to Republican. On the other hand, voters who believe in fiscal responsibility and/or local control and/or that the judicial branch has no business setting education policy will have good reasons not to vote Republican.

But it is not just public education where elected Republicans are truly lost. Can you name a single major policy proposal that Republicans have brought forward since John Lynch was elected Governor back in 2004?

Worse still, it’s not just that Republicans are only offering “same-but-less”, rather, some of the most egregious examples of “nanny-state” legislation in the last legislative session have been supported and sponsored by Republicans. For example, it was Republican State Senator Bob Clegg who sponsored legislation mandating that health insurers cover bariatric surgery.

Republicans seem to be staking the entire 2008 campaign on the State’s budget deficit. One problem with this strategy is that voters don’t get all that worked up about deficits. Remember Ross Perot? All he talked about during the 1992 election was the deficit, and all that got him was a distant third place.

The other problem with making the 2008 election all about the deficit is that we won’t really have a handle on the size of the deficit until 2009 because that is when most of the red-ink is projected to occur.

What Rep. Chandler and the other Republican “leaders” don’t seem to understand is that you can’t beat something with nothing. And, aside from carping –albeit quite correctly– about the budget deficit they appear to have no alternative approaches to the issues facing the State.