House passes Democratic bill expanding school funding, suggesting bipartisan path

By: - February 24, 2023 6:25 am

The bill would also boost the current state adequacy formula, which pays out between $3,800 and $9,400 per student per year to school districts, depending on whether the student qualifies for a number of conditions. (Getty Images)

The New Hampshire House passed a pair of bills to increase funding for traditional and chartered public schools Wednesday, signaling a potential bipartisan path to long-term school spending increases.

In a voice vote, the chamber passed House Bill 529, which would provide aid to school districts with low-income students and low property values. 

That bill would create a sliding scale of grant awards that would depend on how high the property values are in the district and how many students attend public school. Districts with a low valuation would receive an additional $2,000 per student; districts with slightly higher valuations would receive slightly lesser amounts designed to be proportionate to their needs. 

HB 529 would also create a separate sliding scale award based on how many students qualify for free and reduced-price meals – one measure of poverty. Students must live in households making up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $55,500 for a family of four, to qualify for free or reduced-price meals. 

Sponsored by Rep. Dave Luneau, a Hopkinton Democrat, the bill mirrors a targeted aid program called “fiscal capacity disparity aid,” which was approved in the 2019 state budget on a temporary basis, and which expired in 2021. HB 529 would restore that funding and make it permanent. Luneau has argued the fiscal capacity disparity aid is better targeted to cities and towns with resources below the existing aid mechanisms in the state’s current formula. 

The bill has the support of House Education Committee Chairman Rick Ladd, a Haverhill Republican, and received a unanimous committee vote recommending it. If passed, it would add about $100 million to the state’s education budget every year, which currently distributes about a billion dollars a year. 

“The committee recognizes that many communities do not have the capacity to raise taxes due to below average equalized property valuation, and often, a high percentage of children who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch,” wrote Ladd in a committee report presented to the full House. HB 529, he said, was “an effort to assist these communities.” 

The bill would also boost the current state adequacy formula, which pays out between $3,800 and $9,400 per student per year to school districts, depending on whether the student qualifies for a number of conditions. 

HB 529 differs from the approach recommended by Gov. Chris Sununu, whose budget calls for phasing out existing school aid known as “stabilization grants” and phasing in a different form of aid. The aid in HB 529 would be given out without cutting stabilization grants. 

Representatives also approved House Bill 272, which would increase the amount given to public charter schools by $1,000 per student. 

Arguing for HB 272, Rep. Glenn Cordelli, a Tuftonboro Republican, noted that the state has not increased its adequacy funding to charter schools in five years, and that nine charter schools have closed since 2005 for financial reasons. 

Both bills will head to the House Finance Committee in the coming weeks – which can make amendments and recommendations – and will then receive another vote on the House floor. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]