Guest Blogs

Entries in Education Funding (3)

Saturday
Dec082012

Ed Mosca - NOW OR NEVER (OR AT LEAST NOT FOR ANOTHER FOUR TO SIX YEARS)

  Looking for a secure job?  Look no further than Governor of New Hampshire.  That is, as long as you are a Democrat who is pragmatic enough to pledge to veto an income or sales tax, who can exude an air of likability while running a ruthlessly negative campaign, and who can give the appearance of governing from the middle even when you are not. 

            Jeanne Shaheen: three terms, then left by her own choice to pursue higher office.  (Yeah, I know she won without taking the pledge her last term, but that campaign against Humphrey could have made even a David Axelrod wince.)  John Lynch: four terms, then made an early (some would say premature) decision to retire to his dacha in Hopkinton because he didn’t foresee Narwhal eating over one-half of the House Republicans.  While, on the other hand, poor Craig Benson (that’s poor in the figurative sense of course) was retired after one short term spent primarily butting heads with House and Senate Republican leadership (which in part was why he was a one-and-done Governor). 

            So history suggests that, if the New Hampshire GOP wants to stop Maggie Hassan from having a long shelf life, they better pull out all the stops in 2014.

            It should be self-evident after nine elections, and a winning percentage of barely above 10 percent, that the best possible candidate is essential.  No sacrificial lambs or sentimental favorites this time.  This race, not the United States Senate race or the Congressional races, is the most consequential for the future of the New Hampshire GOP and the future of the State. 

            While it is often said that New Hampshire has a weak Governor, the Governor still wields a veto and has the power to nominate judges and senior bureaucrats.  Despite all the histrionics about a “tea-party legislature” gone wild, 2011-2012 was far from transformative.  We still have a fiscally irresponsible defined-benefit retirement plan for public-sector employees, a fiscally irrational education funding system and a plethora of destructive, rent-seeking regulations. And despite an Executive Council consisting of five Republicans, Governor Lynch succeeded in putting not just a committed Claremontista on the Supreme Court, but a committed Claremontista who made no bones about being a committed Claremontista.  The New Hampshire GOP is never going to fundamentally change the political culture of this State without holding the Governor’s office.      

            It is also essential that Republican legislative leadership understand that the race for 2014 started as soon as the vote counting ended in 2012, and act in a manner that helps, not hurts, the next GOP gubernatorial nominee.  Shaheen and Lynch were able to portray themselves as bipartisan while governing as pragmatic partisans, and look at the political success they enjoyed.  Hassan, obviously, means to follow in their footsteps.  

            This doesn’t mean that Republicans in the House and Senate should obstruct simply for the sake of obstructing.  But they must not compromise simply for the sake of compromising.  There is considerable cause for concern because Senate Republicans and, based on their selection of Gene Chandler as Minority Leader, a small majority of House Republicans are smaller-government conservatives rather than small-government conservatives. 

            Smaller-government conservatism –moderating Democrat policies rather than presenting alternatives– plays into the hands of pragmatic partisans like Shaheen, Lynch and Hassan.  They get to grow government while wearing the mantle of bipartisanship.  While their base may grouse about the pace of change being too slow, the base clearly learned its lesson from the Mark Fernald debacle in 2002.  Just ask Jackie Cilley.

            Two areas are particularly concerning:gambling and an education funding amendment.

            Any gambling bill that does not dedicate all gambling-generated revenues to reducing existing taxes is a grow-the-government bill.  If the State Senate passes a gambling bill that provides some tax relief, but also materially increases spending, we might as well just ask Hassan how long she would like to serve and then tell Bill Gardner to leave the Governor’s race off the ballot until that point.  She will be able to run as a tax-cutter while doling out cash to her special interest supporters.  No Republican support for gambling unless it is a true tax-relief measure.

            Senate Republicans, and many House Republicans, have shown a willingness to support an education funding amendment that, while giving the elected branches more control over how to divvy up the education funding pie, cedes to the Court the authority to determine the size of the pie, its ingredients, and how it gets made.  Republican support for such an inadequate amendment would allow Hassan to run as the Governor who solved Claremont, without losing the support of the teacher unions.  Republicans need to stick to the amendment that passed the Senate last session and narrowly failed in the House.

Monday
May072012

Carolyn McKinney - The Legislature Must Assert its Authority Over Education

By Carolyn McKinney, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire.

The incumbent Republican Legislature has competently delivered on promises to balance the state budget, reduce the size of government and encourage private-sector economic growth, but in the area of educational funding reform, this Legislature has unfortunately wavered in its commitment to local control of education and must reverse course for the good of the families of New Hampshire.
 
The Legislature is now considering “compromise” language for an educational funding amendment to the state Constitution (CACR 12). But the language being considered risks permanently damaging the founders' intended relationship among children, parents, local communities and the state by firmly establishing a centralized, one-size-fits-all system that will ensure no child's education is ever more than “adequate.” This runs completely contrary to the spirit of the state of New Hampshire.

Granted, the Supreme Court in its infamous Claremont decisions has already sent New Hampshire down the path to centralized control of education, but the Legislature was never bound by the court's erroneous opinion that the word “cherish” in Part 2, Article 83 of the Constitution somehow means “pay for.”

After all, the Constitution is very clear about when the Legislature must pay for something, as it is in Part 1, Article 15 when it says the people have the right to counsel “at the expense of the state.” The Constitution is also very clear that the Legislature has the authority to set state education policy when it says in Part 1, Article 12 that New Hampshire citizens are not “controllable by any other laws than those to which they, or their representative body, have given their consent.”

Thus, the Legislature should act without hesitation on education statutes that slowly restore a system in which local communities pay for their own schools and set their own educational standards, just like Part 1, Article 6 now says: “the several … [local] bodies … shall at all times have the right of electing their own teachers, and of contracting with them for their support or maintenance, or both.” The Legislature could always decide to supplement the cost of education for local bodies―or not.

If the state were to continue to set standards for education, those standards should be recommendations rather than requirements, which would allow parents, working with local communities, to adjust those standards as they see fit to ensure their children receive an excellent education, and not just an adequate one. Parents and local communities are much better equipped to deal with the needs of local children than bureaucrats in Concord.

If any constitutional amendment is needed, it is one to give the Legislature “full power and authority to mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity” so the Legislature could provide more local aid to communities that need it and less or none to those that don't. CACR 12, this term's constitutional amendment on educational funding reform, should be used solely for this purpose. A resulting funding formula could be based on any number of policies, but in any event, those policies should be set by the Legislature. 

Additionally, the Legislature should present a constitutional amendment to the people that cleans up the language of Part 1, Article 6 to clarify that parents, working with local communities, are responsible for the “support and maintenance of teachers and schools … and of defining and establishing their own curricula.” CACR 8, a constitutional amendment still alive in the House, could be used to advance this language.

Unfortunately, the current compromise language for CACR 12 would permanently enshrine the Claremont decisions in the constitution, giving the Legislature “the responsibility to maintain a system of public elementary and secondary education” (emphasis added). If the Supreme Court can bend the meaning of the word “cherish” to mean “pay for,” what will it do with the phrase “responsibility to maintain”? This language will certainly lead to higher taxation to make sure none of the state's public schools ever fall below their current level of funding.

But that's not the worst of it. The compromise language also gives the Legislature “full power and authority to make wholesome and reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education.” This change to the constitution could remove parents and local communities from the educational decision-making process, and the state Legislature would take total control over what children are taught at school. To anyone who cherishes the traditional role of parents to raise and educate their own children, sometimes in partnership with local communities, this would be a troublesome development.

Saturday
Mar032012

NH Sen. Jeb Bradley - Unfinished Business 

Unfinished Business

Jeb Bradley 3/2/2012

In 2010, New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly chose conservatives to change directions in Concord. No wonder: state spending had increased by 24% from $9.36 billion to $11.5 billion and our fiscally prudent state was facing a prospective budget deficit of $800 million. Further fueling taxpayer misery: nearly 100 taxes or fees had been enacted or raised during those four years including the infamous LLC Tax which was so controversial it was repealed shortly after taking effect.

The newly elected Legislature tackled tough challenges. A budget passed that cut spending by 11% and while difficult cuts were made—they were necessary. Business taxes were reformed (SB-125) insuring state revenue collectors could not access an income tax on small business owners both providing a measure of fairness as well as enhancing job growth. The state’s largest and most costly program, Medicaid, was reformed (SB-147) by moving to a managed care model that when fully implemented will maintain or improve quality and save millions. Lastly, the Legislature after several unsuccessful efforts passed pension reform (SB-3 added to the budget) that will reduce the nearly $5 billion unfunded burden that rests squarely on the backs of taxpayers.

Education funding remains unfinished business.  A formula (SB-183) passed in 2011 ensured towns don’t lose education dollars and prevented return of the dreaded statewide property tax. But this 2011 formula does not resolve the decades old education funding dilemma spawned by the NH Supreme Court’s Claremont related decisions that requires the state to fund every dollar of the cost of an adequate education through equalized grants for every student across the state regardless of need. Sooner -- rather than later -- taxpayers will be confronted with an income tax or sales tax, probably both, to pay the Court ordered costs of education.

Changing or tempering the Court decision can only occur through a constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature and enacted by voters.  After 14 years of living with the NH Supreme Court’s takeover of education funding, voters may have that opportunity in November 2012 if the Senate’s bipartisan constitutional amendment CACR-12, which has the support of Governor Lynch, is also passed by the House.

What would CACR-12 do and not do?  Why is CACR-12 so vital for NH’s future?

Most importantly, CACR-12 would put state and local elected leaders in charge of education funding decisions as well as providing the criteria for a quality education so necessary for students in an increasingly competitive world.

CACR-12 would give the Legislature the ability to target state education dollars to communities most in need. Since the Claremont decision of 1997, every new funding scheme is greeted with scrutinizing eyes ascertaining how every community fares in the race to garner state dollars.  Many towns with high income levels, a substantial tax base, and few at risk students have received huge state grants because of the court rulings that call for equalized grants regardless of need. At the same time other communities that everyone would agree need assistance due to larger numbers of at risk students, lower property values and income levels have lost funding. Such a system is not rational by any metric…nevertheless court decisions require this formula. CACR-12 would allow the Legislature to target state funding and make those difficult decisions based on need – not formulas.

Could the Legislature walk away from education funding?  NO!  CACR-12 allows targeted education aid but requires the Legislature to mitigate fiscal disparities among communities and educational opportunity among students. Is this a state takeover of education funding should the voters approve CACR-12?  Absolutely not! Before the Supreme Court’s Claremont decision, the Legislature had the authority to target aid and did.

At its heart CACR-12 provides the Legislature with full power and authority to do the job elected officials are supposed to do: make tough choices and set priorities. CACR-12 recognizes there are not unlimited taxpayer resources and puts elected officials not judges in charge of allocating those dollars.

Furthermore CACR-12 restores local control to school boards. The language of CACR-12 provides that the Legislature sets education standards and ensures accountability of those standards. Is this a state takeover of education?   NO! New Hampshire is not constitutionally a ‘Home Rule State’ and since 1963 NH has set minimum education standards, determining minimum classroom size, teacher student ratios etc. CACR-12 does not change the historical dynamic between Concord and NH communities….nor will CACR-12 in anyway impact homeschooling.

Will disgruntled NH residents still be able to petition the Supreme Court if there is dissatisfaction with the decisions of the Legislature regarding education under CACR-12?  Yes the Court will still be involved---but there will no longer be a presumption that every act of the Legislature is unreasonable as has been the case since Claremont.  This raises an extraordinarily high legal hurdle for the state to prove its actions are reasonable. This provision of CACR-12 returns the Court to its traditional role of opining on the constitutionality of laws, rather than the Supreme Court becoming a super unelected Legislature.

Some skeptics are not assuaged.  On the right, some decry any state or court involvement in education policy or its funding. On the left some maintain the State has total responsibility for funding education which should come from an income or sales tax….or both.

However the vast middle of New Hampshire voters is wary of both those outcomes. These voters seek a balance between state and local decision making and believe that the Court’s role is subsidiary to that of elected officials in setting education policy and making funding decisions. Most importantly the vast majority of NH voters recognize the NH Advantage of no income or sales tax has served us well for a long time – most recently in this deep long-lasting recession. Voters realize NH’s tax advantage is as critical to our future as educated students --- and worth fighting for.

After 14 long years…..it’s finally time to let voter’s voices be heard on education funding. The bipartisan CACR-12 represents the best opportunity to do so.