Wednesday, June 6, 2007


The following was sent to us by Tammy Simmons of The New Hampshire Advantage Coalition at


One of the arguments being advanced in favor of the constitutional amendments presently percolating in the House, the most prominent of these being the Whalley and Smith amendments (I’ll call them the House amendments), is that they would restore the status quo prior to the Claremont decisions. This argument is stunningly wrong.

The status quo ante Claremont, in terms of constitutional law, was that the representative branches had plenary power to set education policy. It was not that the Legislature had to utilize a centralized, top-down system of public education or, more specifically, that the Legislature had to define curriculum, set standards and determine funding for the entire State, which is what the House amendments would write into the Constitution.

Advocates of the House amendments argue that, because there has been State control of public education for a really long time, there really has never been any such thing as “local control.” It’s just a myth. So, according to them, we’re not really losing anything by giving up local control to forestall a potential court-ordered income tax. They couldn’t be more wrong.

While it is true that there has been a State Board of Education and State standards since 1919, the important point is that these things have never been constitutionally compelled. The House amendments, however, would constitutionally compel this bureaucratic, top-down approach to public education. Thus, such an amendment would permanently enshrine in our Constitution a failed, obsolescent 19th century model of public education. No future Legislature or Governor would be able to affect any meaningful change by, for example, devolving authority to local decision-makers.

Further, there is such a thing as “local control” and the House amendments would surely kill it. While the State may have been setting standards for a long time, it has been local decision-makers that have decided how much to spend to implement these standards. This degree of local control is what has kept New Hampshire’s tax burden low relative to the other states.

The House amendments, however, would kill local control because the Legislature would be required to determine how much should be spent in each school district. The passage of any of the House amendments would result in the proverbial race to the bottom.

Efficient and frugal school districts would be forced to spend up to the level set by the education mandarins in Concord, even though they could do it cheaper and better. Taxpayers would no longer be able to vote with their feet by moving to a different school district to escape overspending, mismanagement and waste because overspending, mismanagement and waste will be ubiquitous. The only relief from high taxes and bad public schools will be to move out of the State.

The irony in all this is that one of the arguments ventilated for the House amendments is that sacrificing local control is a small price to pay to prevent an income tax. Ending what local control we have over public education will not prevent an income tax, as there is nothing in the House amendments prohibiting an income tax. Just the opposite, killing local control makes an income tax much, much more likely. The inevitable result of the loss of local control over property taxes is that the income tax will be seen as the only potential source of tax relief.

The House amendments are policy and tax pigs, no matter how much lipstick their advocates apply.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. It is the Ingbretson amendment. Instead of writing the failed policies of the past into the Constitution, as the House amendments would do, the Ingbretson amendment builds on what has worked and allows us the flexibility to make real improvements to education. And unlike the House amendments, it does not grease the skids for an income tax.

Undoubtedly one of the knocks on the Ingbretson amendment will be that it was not crafted by the “expert legal minds” that crafted the House amendments. But remember what caused our present state of affairs: five expert legal minds took it upon themselves to impose their views on education policy on the rest of us. Isn’t it about time that the lawyers went back to lawyering and left public education to those who actually know something about it?

If the goal is to pass an amendment that preserves what is good and unique about New Hampshire while allowing us to meet the challenges of the future, the only choice is the Ingbretson amendment.

Tammy Simmons
Executive Director
The New Hampshire Advantage
(603) 235-9998

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