Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Beast from Concord: A school funding monster

The following opinion piece appeared in the Union Leader. The staff clearly understands our schools have a spending problem and not a funding problem.

Beast from Concord: A school funding monster

THE HOUSE will vote on Wednesday on a bill that would spend $128 million more on public education over two years -- with no way to pay for it anywhere in sight. Any fiscally responsible person would vote "no" on this bill.

The bill is a hodge-podge of education-funding policy -- the result of being amended five times to fix the formulas that wound up disbursing money in patently unfair ways. And even now it is not what many people would call a fair bill. It gives additional money to some property-wealthy communities and takes money from some property-poor ones. It tries to make up for this with tacked-on adjustments thrown in as desperate measures to collect enough votes for passage.

Were the bill nothing more than the Frankenstein's monster that it is, there would be reason enough to oppose it. Add the fact that it deliberately appropriates money the state does not have and cannot be reasonably expected to find in the next two years, and voting "no" is a no-brainer.

The amazing part of the story is that House Speaker Terie Norelli actually planned this all along. Her strategy for devising a new education funding policy was to define an adequate education her first year as speaker (last year), create a new funding formula this year, then figure out how to pay for it next year.

Do you budget like that at home? If you were to send your kids to private or parochial school, would you pick the school first, regardless of cost, then figure out how to pay for it once your child was already enrolled and the bills were due?

Of course you wouldn't. This education funding bill is that irresponsible. But don't worry, House Democratic leaders say. The financing scheme legislators are voting on might be entirely different when it takes effect. The bill creates a study commission that will work on adjustments after the bill is passed.

"Not one dime will be spent before that commission meets and reports its work back," House Finance Committee Chairman Marjorie Smith told the Associated Press last week.

Well, that's comforting. Legislators are being asked not only to spend $128 million we don't have, but to vote for a funding formula that might change in unpredictable ways after it is approved.

That's like signing an adjustable rate mortgage without being able to see the formula the bank will use to adjust the rate.

At this point, do you really need another reason to vote against this bill?

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