The Bulletin Board

House lawmakers retain bill on calculation of school adequacy funding

By: - May 21, 2021 3:23 pm
Students sit at their desks while wearing masks

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock “Coping through COVID-19” series continues Wednesday with a conversation about returning to school. (Getty Images)

A House committee on Thursday pushed aside an effort to give additional funding to New Hampshire schools after COVID-19, continuing a growing rift between House and Senate lawmakers over how best to help public schools.

In a party-line vote, the House Education Committee voted to retain Senate Bill 135, which would have required the Department of Education to calculate public school funding based on the 2019 to 2020 school year attendance records – not the most recent 2020 to 2021 school year. 

Traditionally, annual adequacy aid – given to schools each year by the state – is determined based on how many students attend the school. That number is calculated based on the school’s average daily attendance in the most recent academic year – in this case, 2020 to 2021.

But advocates for SB 135 have argued that an adjustment is necessary this year after many schools saw a significant drop in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic. That temporary dip could mean schools see their funding for next school year drop if the current school year is used in the formula. 

Changing the formula to reflect 2019 to 2020 attendance would close a $45.7 million gap that schools are expected to face this year, according to estimates released by the Department of Education. 

Republicans argued that there are other mechanisms to help schools make up the loss in funding that are being considered in the state budget. 

And some said it wasn’t necessary.

“I am all for adequate education and monies, but I think we really need to ascertain what districts need what money,” said Rep. Louise Andrus, a Salisbury Republican. “So far this year, the government has funded over $650 million to the schools for COVID. . . . I just think we need to ascertain who needs what before we go any further.”

Democrats noted that many school districts have raised the alarm about that drop in funding, which they said could lead to property-tax increases. Passing the bill in 2022, they argued, would be too late. 

“I’m concerned if it’s retained, by the time it gets worked on, some districts might be in a real crisis situation,” said Rep. Marjorie Porter, a Hillsborough Democrat, ahead of the vote. 

The vote Thursday prevents further action on SB 135 by the House until January. And it comes as House Republicans have disagreed with their Senate counterparts over how to address the COVID-19 attendance funding gap.

Senators of both parties are united on the idea of helping schools bridge the gap; SB 135 passed the Senate unanimously before it came to the House Education Committee. 

But in their budget bill, passed in March, House budget writers did not add the money into the budget bill, House Bill 2. 

Now, with SB 135 shelved until next year, it’s up to the Senate to add the money into the budget bill. 

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.