Thursday, April 5, 2007

The following was a speech presented at the CACR 18 hearing as to why it should not pass.


In its December 30, 1993 Claremont I decision, the N.H. Supreme court decided to change N.H.’s historic education formula when it ruled, “ ... that [the] encouragement of literature clause of [the] State Constitution imposes duty on [the] state to provide constitutionally adequate education to every educable child in public schools in [the] state and to guarantee adequate funding.” (Emphasis mine).

On December 17, 1997, the Court ruled that local property taxes can’t be used to fund the state’s obligation to pay for adequate education for every educable child. In other words, state funding for adequate education must come from state tax resources and not local tax resources.

When the Court ruled that the state must provide a constitutionally adequate education to every educable child, it asserted, just as it did with funding, that the State of New Hampshire and not the state’s towns, cities or local school districts must provide for all of what comprises an adequate education and that means directing all the physical and human resources required to do the job. The state can’t delegate its administrative, managerial or teaching responsibilities any more than it can delegate its constitutional obligation to guarantee funding so whatever education is provided locally from here on will be under the complete direction and authority of Concord educators and not local school boards.

Since CACR 18 does nothing to interdict the transition from a fundamentally locally driven system of education to one of total state control, the governor should soon arrange to meet with New Hampshire’s mayors, councilmen and selectmen to discuss the implications for all local school districts and for all voters as we transition to what will become a single, state school district. Future school board members will be elected to do the state’s bidding rather implementing and directing educational programs important to local parents.

It’s clear, from two just released studies, that the educational model which the court insists the state adopt will have undeniably and irretrievably grave consequences for the educational future of our children, consequences which no responsible parent or guardian could possibly approve. Any proposed amendment - and particularly, the governor’s amendment - should stop state takeover.

At present, education in New Hampshire is still a local function, driven by parent input and administered through local school boards. The Courts edict has not yet been implemented. The cost is still primarily paid for through local property taxes. Stakeholders are still within shouting distance of those who administer their schools.

This March, the United States Chamber of Commerce issued the results of a comprehensive study of education in the United States. It should be of no surprise to anyone familiar with our locally driven, locally funded system of education that NH scored #3, of all the states, following Massachusetts and Minnesota. Massachusetts and Minnesota also sport locally driven systems. The Claremont decisions demand that we abandon this exceptionally effective education model.

Where did the court find the its inspiration for top-down education? It found the aspirational language in the 1895 Kentucky constitution. Kentucky scored #38 in the United States Chamber of Commerce study.

What does the language of the Claremont decisions actually require? The answer is a top-down system similar to that of California - with the ideal being Hawaii. California scored #43 in the United States Chamber of Commerce study. Hawaii, an entirely top down and entirely state funded system scored #46. So, where would we be heading with adoption of CACR18? Clearly, there’s no chance of either remaining #3, or of overtaking Minnesota or Massachusetts. We appear headed somewhere between Kentucky and Hawaii - if we’re lucky. If not, the result could be worse. And just how worse?

Another, just issued, March 2007 report, summarized by Vicki Murray of the Pacific Research Institute [summary attached herewith] suggests just how bad complying with the courts vision of education for New Hampshire could get. The $2.6 million report, funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation and the Stuart Foundation placed California #48 among states - Lower than the United States Chamber of Commerce study. If we remain on the justice’s education bandwagon, the future for educating New Hampshire’s kids looks terribly grim.

And what of the cost to implement this pending decline? Recently the governor embraced the New Hampshire Department of Education’s specifications for defining adequacy. The NH House recently passed HB927, a holistic model including kindergarten. Estimates of cost per pupil are various at the moment but it seems that the minimum sum necessary to provide for the curriculum and administrative structure we’re creeping up on will be in the neighborhood of $9,000 to $10,000 per student. Given approximately 220,000 students in New Hampshire schools, this means that the state will soon have to annually raise between $2.0 and $2.2 billion in school funds or, in other words, around $1.2 to $1.4 billion dollars more than we’re currently providing schools. The tax implications are enormous and the implications for the state’s economic future are grave.

CACR 18 proposes to target state aid. Targeting has been opposed by House and Senate Democrats until now. Targeting state education funds toward property poor districts has always made sense because the sums involved historically did not comprise so large an amount as to threaten more healthy and wealthy school districts. If targeting however, as CACR 18 provides, applies to the total sum the state will distribute, now projected at billions of dollars - the political reality is that the formula for distributing the entire funding pot will be determined by political coalitions in the House and Senate and not through application of a rational education funding formula based upon need. Lousy education and endless litigation will result.

An example of how just this sort of legislative self-interest works occurred when the recent state wide property tax and distribution formula emerged several speakerships ago. The state wide property tax was eventually passed because it served particular political coalitions in the House and Senate. It was not passed because it was either rational or equitable. The votes were cynically assembled. The formula adopted caused enormous turmoil statewide. The lesson is ageless. Political considerations will always trump need when too much money is involved. The education and education funding plan now emerging from the governor and legislature for New Hampshire is our own bridge to nowhere.

CACR 18 will not prevent state takeover, it will not prevent incipient educational decline. it will not prevent financial hemorrhaging, it will not prevent gut-wrenching new taxes nor will it prevent vicious and contentious legislative wrangling over the distribution of state education funds. In the end, when this plays out, weak communities and constituencies will be forced to subsidize more powerful coalitions of towns and cities. All CACR 18 will do is help facilitate instituting this new, top down education model for which New Hampshire towns cities will be compelled to pay up to half the cost. The privilege for such extortion will be front row seats from which to watch a stellar and nationally admired education system go down the drain.

Every parent and every teacher in New Hampshire should be alarmed at what’s transpiring here and the effect it will have on our children. If you care about quality education for New Hampshire’s kids you should be fighting state takeover to your dying breath. We need to halt this transition. CACR 18 as written will do no more than facilitate a one way trip to the worst of education worlds.


Paul Mirski

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