Court may force N.H. to provide more school funds

by David Kung | 6/19/96 5:00am

In the next weeks, the New Hampshire Superior Court will make a ruling that could bring more money to Hanover schools and could lower property taxes.

The court is considering a lawsuit accusing the state of New Hampshire of insufficiently funding schools. Currently, school boards rely heavily on local property taxes to fund schools.

The lawsuit was brought against the state by school districts in Franklin, Lisbon, Pittsfield, Allenstown and Claremont in 1993.

These districts claim the state does not adequately fund their schools, State Rep. David Allison said.

"New Hampshire ranks 50th in the states in support for public schools," he said. "This has been true for several years. This is one of the reasons the lawsuit was brought."

"We are 50th in the nation in terms of subsidy given to education and even if we tripled what we give we would still be 50th," said Elizabeth Crory, Hanover's representative to the state legislature.

This case could be very important for poorer school districts, she said.

"It will not be as important for Hanover as it will be for poorer school districts, but it will be important for all districts," she said.

The decision will not drastically affect taxes or the school system in Hanover, she said.

"Let us assume the decision comes down in favor of the school districts," Crory said. "It means more money will be coming from the state to help education in Hanover, which will eventually reduce the property tax."

Poorer school districts stand to gain most from a decision against the state. But Crory said Hanover will not be affected greatly, since it is inhabited by people from diverse economic situations.

"We make decisions based on the community's ability to pay," Crory said. "We have middle and lower class people as well as wealthy."

Allison said the current local property tax is an unfair way to support public education.

"Other states among the 50 states have brought cases like this to the courts over many years," Allison said. "There [was] a case tried in New Hampshire in 1919 and 1920. The New Hampshire legislature voted to provide state support for public schools."

In 1920, the state decided to support schools in an equitable way, Allison said. But the election of a new governor and legislature ended the plan.

"While other states were realizing it was a state responsibility as opposed to a local one to support public schools," New Hampshire was failing to do that, Allison said.

This historical failure culminated in the lawsuit in 1993, he said.

"I think the people who brought the lawsuit saw that it had to be a court decision rather than a legislature decision," Allison said. "I think they are correct. It must be a decision by court rather than by legislature."

Allison likened the current lawsuit to the historic Brown vs. Board of Education case.

"Look at the Brown vs. Board of Education case," he said.

"It was a similar decision. If black schools in the South had come to the US Congress and tried to change separate-but-equal they would have gotten nowhere."

"We felt in 1993 that there was no point in going to the legislature," Allison said. "They would do nothing for us."

But Rep. George Wright said he believes the state properly supports public schools.

"My belief after being in this for many years is that we do fund the schools adequately by local property taxes," Wright said.

"They get adequate funding as it stands now and I do not want to see a statewide tax to pay for schools."

"I think of the way that we fund schools now is the most fair way because the people of the town and district vote and decide how much they want to spend in the schools and how much they want to pay in taxes," he said.

"This seems to be the fairest way to tax people."

This issue has surfaced in the past, Wright added.

"We had a governor who said that the schools could not survive any longer without a state income tax ,and that was a long time ago and we still don't have a state income tax," he said.

The state should be paying a greater role in financing education, Rep. Charles Yeaton said.

"I hope that those that bring the suit will win," he said. "Because I think there is a great inequity in the ability of towns to pay for education."

"We are concerned that children in small towns do not have the advantages of resources. Teachers are paid better in well paid communities," he said.

"They are able to attract more experienced and keep more experienced teachers."

"We are interested in equitable education no matter what town you live in," Yeaton said.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!