Thursday, April 10, 2008

Funding farce: Our dumb school aid plan

The following piece appears in the Union Leader.

Funding farce: Our dumb school aid plan

TO SEE WHAT is wrong with the Supreme Court's Claremont and Londonderry rulings dictating state education funding policy, look no further than the new school funding formula approved by the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

The committee added $3 million to the bill, raising its price tag to $917 million, because the underlying formula was so fundamentally unfair that extra money was needed to buy the support of some communities. The Senate had already added extra money for the same reason a few weeks before.

The fundamental unfairness stems from the bill's allocation of $3,450 per pupil to every school district in the state regardless of need. Bedford and Amherst get that base amount of state aid, as do Berlin and Claremont. Only after distributing that cash statewide can the state give aid to districts that might really need it.

Why would anyone spend scarce tax dollars this way? The only reason is because the state Supreme Court has said we must.

Hence the creation of a formula that takes money from poorer communities and gives it to wealthier ones -- then makes up for it with amendments that take money from some wealthier towns and give it to some poorer ones.

Absent the Supreme Court's dictate that the state provide funding for an "adequate" education to every district, school aid would be distributed according to actual need. Legislators are trying to fit the square peg of rational school funding into the round hole provided by the Supreme Court. No matter how hard they try, it is not going to fit.

That is why the state needs a constitutional amendment to restore the Legislature's rightful authority to decide for itself how best to distribute education aid. Barring such an amendment, legislators will have to continue doling out millions in education aid in ways that don't make sense and don't help our children.

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