Judge Rules in Favor of School Districts, Finds ‘Gross Inequities’ in Opportunities

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ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough


Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff ruled in favor of ConVal and three other school districts that sued the state arguing education is underfunded.

Ruoff also granted ConVal, Winchester, Mascenic and Monadnock school districts attorney fees. They sued the state, Gov. Christopher T. Sununu, and Frank Edelblut, individually and as Commissioner of Education. Their representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Labels aside, we are simply unable to fathom a legitimate governmental purpose to justify the gross inequities in educational opportunities evident from the record,” Ruoff wrote.

“The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence. It requires no particular constitutional expertise to recognize the capriciousness of such a system.”

In his June 5 order, Ruoff wrote: “The Court does not take this decision lightly and recognizes its significant implications.”

ConVal School Board Member Bernd Foecking said the order “very clearly states the way education is funded is unconstitutional.”

He said the order is still very fresh. “I assume the state is not as happy with the order as we are,” Foecking said. “I will have to wait to see what’s happening tomorrow, what the response will be from the state.”

He emailed ConVal’s statement to InDepthNH.org:

“The Contoocook Valley School District, in conjunction with the Mascenic, Monadnock, and Winchester School Districts, filed a complaint in the Cheshire Superior Court laying out how, using the state’s own formula and the state’s own data, the state’s base adequacy funding falls far short of constitutionally sufficient funding for the children of the ConVal, Mascenic, Monadnock, and Winchester School Districts and throughout New Hampshire.

“Today we heard back from the Court in a comprehensive 98-page decision. The Court’s findings were consistent with our assertion that the present levels of funding for public education in the State of New Hampshire are unconstitutional.

“The Court specifically held the State’s current per-pupil funding levels are ‘unconstitutional as applied to the Petitioning school districts.’

“In particular, the Court held that the State was unconstitutionally failing to fully fund transportation costs for all students, unconstitutionally failing to fully fund facilities costs and unconstitutionally failing to fund the costs of teachers at proper teacher-student ratios.

“Additionally, the Court awarded attorneys’ fees. The Court also indicated that any formula design that forced communities to raise dollars to subsidize the State’s obligations would be ‘ripe for adjudication.’

“The Court also found that the funding formula was ‘not only unsupported by the legislative record but [is] clearly or demonstratively inadequate according to the Legislature’s own definition of an adequate education.’”

Ruoff’s order concluded: “As every court decision on the matter has recognized, school funding is no small task, and the burden on the Legislature is great. Yet, as every court decision has similarly recognized, the Legislature is the proper governmental body to complete it. As has been the result in the past, the Court expects the Legislature to respond thoughtfully and enthusiastically to funding public education according to its constitutional obligation.”

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