To the editor:
Following Gov. Chris Sununu’s recent veto of the state budget, several school administrators, school board members and the teachers’ unions have publicly expressed their criticism of the decision.
Such criticism blatantly misses the real issue at hand.
If we truly care about our children, the most important thing we can give them is a continued strong economy and a sustainable educational funding model. The quick cash grab in the Legislature's budget does nothing to provide for the long-term benefit of New Hampshire’s students. Frankly, this hurried approach to slightly bolster funding is, at best, counterproductive and, at worst, a dangerous path for New Hampshire to take.
We understand that as student populations decline in some districts across New Hampshire, so too does state education funding, which is paid on a per pupil basis. However, responsible managers will adapt to these challenges and develop long-term approaches that account for decreased enrollment – not absentmindedly hope that a fresh influx of state funding will alleviate all their problems.
Increasing per pupil aid in a manner that takes into account the needs of poorer districts is one thing, but tolerating disparity in the aid per student that districts receive because of wasteful fiscal practices is fundamentally unfair to students, educators, and taxpayers.
School administrators and school boards have a fiduciary obligation to budget responsibly, which means developing their budgets based on the law as it stands – not based on their aspirations for what those laws might one day become. Sadly, for many of our colleagues across the state, this is exactly what they did.
Gov. Sununu was right in saying that his first priority is to protect New Hampshire’s economy. Without a robust economy, graduates will all too quickly take their education elsewhere in pursuit of greater opportunities.
We already have one of the largest unfunded pension liabilities hanging over the heads of our future graduates as a tax burden. For that reason, threatening the wellbeing of our economy with the prospect of a major tax hike is, and should, remain a non-starter.
The governor also reminds us that building a deficit into the state budget – which will only continue to grow for the next Legislature – is a disaster waiting to happen. The last time a budget was passed with such a gaping financial hole, the Legislature was forced to come back and fix its mess and, in so doing, had to slash funding to the state’s university system by 50% to balance the books. That type of fiscal irresponsibility will make the cost of obtaining a degree here in New Hampshire unobtainable for many.
Gov. Sununu has made clear that he stands ready to increase the state’s commitment to education in a targeted and methodical manner. His budget included tens of millions in new dollars for school building aid – critical funding that would have a huge impact on districts facing infrastructure issues. Further, his proposed budget fully funded tuition and transportation aid, and it dramatically increased special education aid to school districts for the first time in decades. He also supported updating the full-day kindergarten funding formula to fund kindergarten like we fund grades 1-12.
These changes would represent a significant increase in educational support to local school districts.
Further, the governor has also said that he will restore stabilization grants for property poor communities. He understands the struggles that some districts are grappling with as enrollments decline and wants to help.
On education, Gov. Sununu’s right. It’s time for leaders in the Legislature to join him in his common-sense approach to keeping our economy humming, while using smart investments to give our children and families the best education possible.
Member, N.H. State Board of Education
Pamela J. Brown
Member, Sanborn Regional School District
Member, Windham School Board