WINDHAM — A new law that provides more state funding for school districts across New Hampshire will also take some pressure off of taxpayers, and provide two dozen municipalities with thousands of dollars in refunds in the coming weeks.
Windham and other towns with growing populations will notice the most relief, according to Republican state Rep. David Bates.
At a school board meeting Tuesday night, he presented Windham's members with a check for $2.8 million, representative of the adequate education grants that were not distributed this year.
"The money represents a 94 percent increase in state education funding for our town," Bates said. "The impact for other towns varies, but for Windham ... the funding almost doubles the money we will receive from the state from now on."
Additionally, Atkinson will see $46,558 and Pelham, $73,521. Windham's refund is the second largest, second only to Bedford, at $4.2 million.
According to the New Hampshire Constitution as well as several education-related state Supreme Court cases, the state has a duty to define what an adequate education is and pay for it.
This money comes to local towns in the form of "adequacy grants." Since 2011, the state has put a cap on this funding, causing rapidly growing districts to receive less money than they were owed under the state formula.
"For most towns, (the cap) didn't matter, because state wide enrollment has been declining for years," Bates explained. "But in places like Windham, we grew well beyond it."
Those districts were forced to function with the same amount of money from the state every year and make up the difference through taxation.
It left the Windham school district underfunded by roughly $3 million for at least four years, Bates said.
He noted that the topic has a contentious history, which came to a head when a superior court judge ruled the cap unconstitutional in a September 2016 case brought by the city of Dover and its school district against the state.
"I've spent the last two years advocating for (the cap's) removal," Bates said. "Additionally, this year, I put in legislation that would have the state make appropriations for fiscal year 2016, essentially paying towns back."
After receiving approval from Gov. Chris Sununu last week, 24 towns will receive a check soon.
Because town budgets have already been approved for this year, the funds will likely contribute to lowering this year's tax rates, Bates said, which will be determined later this year.
An average Windham home, valued at $350,000, was charged an additional $500 every year that state funding fell short, he said.
"The budget grows and we have some big plans in progress, like school building projects about to start," Bates said. "So it's unfortunate that the savings may not be as obvious to the taxpayers as they otherwise would have."
School Board Chairman Rob Breton praised Bates' efforts, stating that he's thankful for "the significant amount of money that will come from the state, opposed to taxpayers."
"As a board, we'll take a look and get the administration involved with how to best utilize it," he added.