New Hampshire should be spending at least 80% more per pupil on public schools, a judge said Monday in one of two rulings that could force significant changes to education funding.
Lawmakers have been grappling with the issue for decades after the state Supreme Court ruled in the 1990s that the state is required to provide and pay for an adequate education. In response, the Legislature began sending each school district a set amount of aid per pupil — currently $4,100. Actual costs are much higher, however, and local property taxpayers make up the difference, with wide disparities due to differences in property wealth between communities.
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Conval Regional School District and 17 others challenged the base amount in court in 2019, and after a trial in April, Rockingham County Judge David Ruoff agreed with them Monday that the current allocation is unconstitutional. While the plaintiffs argued aid must be increased to at least $9,900 per pupil, Ruoff declined to set a definitive amount but said it should be at least $7,356.
In his order, Ruoff said while he is mindful that the Legislature has the final say, school funding is a “complicated and politically-charged issue with a history that suggests some level of judicial intervention is now necessary.” He suggested politics have impeded the state’s duty to children, but said “that ends today.”
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In a separate case, Ruoff also found the state has violated the constitution by not redistributing excess money collected via the statewide education property tax from wealthier towns to poorer communities.
The rulings are likely to be appealed. A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, which represented the state, said officials were reviewing the orders and considering next steps.
Kimberly Rizzo Saunders, superintendent of the Conval Regional School District, said the court recognized the substantial evidence offered by plaintiffs.
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“Today’s decision reflects what has been apparent for years: that the State of New Hampshire has not lived up to its legal and moral obligation to adequately fund public education,” she said in a statement.