Sep 6, 2016 1:17 PM
NH1 News Political Director
CONCORD – In a major victory for the City of Dover and nearly 40 other communities across New Hampshire, the way the state decides how much to pay public schools was ruled unconstitutional.
The decision from Judge Brian Tucker of Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, which was the biggest education funding ruling in a decade, stated that New Hampshire’s percentage spending cap on how much state funds for public schools can increase each year “is unconstitutional.”
Andru Volinsky, the lead attorney representing Dover in the yearlong case, told NH1 News that the court “found that the arbitrary cap on adequacy funding was unconstitutional and that growing communities like Dover should not be penalized.”
“All of the communities that were affected by the cap now will be reimbursed for last year’s funds. Last year Dover lost a million and a half dollars in school funding aid that will now be repaid to it, and the other communities will get payments as well,” he added.
Overall there were almost 40 communities affected by the cap, and in total they’ll receive $11 million in money lost due to the cap in the fiscal year 2016. Volinsky said the process of paying the communities should happen “fairly quickly.”
Dover and the other communities affected were hoping to reimbursed not only for this past year, but also for previous years in which they lost funding as a result of the cap. The court ruling denied that request.
“This is the ruling that we agreed upon last spring with the state attorneys general last spring, and it was only through the intervention of the Senate President and the Speaker of the House that this has been delayed for six months with additional litigation costs. They lawyers for the attorney general and I agreed that the statue was unconstitutional,” Volinsky added.
In a statement, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan said “when this case was originally filed last year, I agreed with the Attorney General's determination that the funding levels for certain school districts in Fiscal Year 2016 were not legally defensible. The Superior Court’s decision today reaffirms the validity of concerns raised by communities about school funding levels as well as the Attorney General’s original determination.”
Hassan then took aim at the GOP controlled State House, saying “with a strengthening economy and a strong revenue surplus, I supported legislation earlier this year that would have addressed the concerns raised by communities, and I continue to be disappointed that the legislature did not come together to do the right thing for our students by fully funding adequacy in these districts.”
NH1 News was first to report on the governor's response to the ruling.
The top two Republicans in the State House fired back.
“The legislature continues to lead on education funding. We believe that fully funding education for New Hampshire students is important which is why the current education funding plan eliminates the cap entirely in fiscal year ’18,” said Senate President Chuck Morse. “The current law provides a funding mechanism in this fiscal year to alleviate the impact of the cap on communities by directing an additional disbursement of unspent funds from the Department of Education.”
“We continue, however, to be disappointed by the Attorney General and Governor who did not defend the state’s position on this issue, especially considering they both supported establishing the education funding cap in the first place,” added the Republican lawmaker from Salem.
“The reason we intervened in the Dover Lawsuit in the first place was to make sure that the legislature’s position was represented in the court,” said Speaker Shawn Jasper.
“The legislature has worked to restore full education funding to all towns, and today’s decision reinforces our actions to remove the cap entirely in fiscal year ’18,” added the lawmaker from Hudson.
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