By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The education funding commission is exploring a different approach to determining an adequate education and how to distribute money to achieve the goal.
Instead of an input method with parameters and set amounts of per pupil aid, the commission wants to use a system that determines how much each school district needs in total money to achieve the state average for student outcomes.
Each school’s outcomes are based on assessment scores, graduation rates and attendance rates.
Under the model developed by American Institutes for Research, the model projects the amount per student each school needs to provide its students with the opportunity to achieve the state average outcome, and then uses a weighting formula to reach the amount of money needed.
The current formula is not based on outcomes, but has a basic per pupil grant of about $3,700 per student and then provides additional state stipends for students in special education, in poverty, learning English as a second language and third grade reading levels, instead of student outcomes.
“The outcome target, which is kind of the New Hampshire average, is really a definition of adequacy,” said committee member Bill Ardinger Monday, noting under the new model every child in every district would have the opportunity to achieve the state average.
“When a district does not achieve the targeted goal of an average performance,” he noted, “you are getting more total funding to achieve adequacy.”
Ardinger noted the value of adequacy would vary by district across the state depending on student needs, instead of the current “input-based structure. This is a very different relationship among communities.”
Committee member Chris Dwyer suggested a document be produced to explain the new model noting the assumptions are very different from past thinking.
If people use the current thinking about education funding, she noted, there could be some misinterpretations.
The report done by the AIR group hired through the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire, which has a $500,000 contract with the commission, was accepted by the commission Monday. AIR will continue working with the commission to formulate a proposal.
Under the model, the assumption is New Hampshire student outcomes are among the best in the country so the state is providing an adequate education and spending enough total money on public education, about $3 billion.
The new formula would not raise more money but would redistribute what is already spent on education through local and state property taxes, and other state aid.
The model determines what each district needs to provide for its students to achieve the average state performance.
Currently some districts provide less per pupil spending to achieve the average, while others spend more and achieve higher outcomes.
The formula would redistribute the money spent on education so the districts that have a difficult time raising the money needed to provide an adequate education, would receive more money while the ones spending more than they need to reach the average performance would receive less.
Rep. Dick Ames, D-Jaffrey, said the model will likely mean total spending on education is likely to go up as the districts providing the most resources will not want to provide any less to their students.
“That means those above adequacy can do what they want, and stay where they are now. That’s their choice,” he said. “Consequently, this will mean higher spending from the state on education, probably significantly higher.”
But he noted that is a discussion for the commission for another day.
One of the remaining issues to be determined is if transportation costs should be included in the total cost of education, and some members noted transportation for special education programs are often contracted separately and are very costly for some districts.
The issue has been raised at several commission meetings, and after some discussion, chair Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton, said the adequacy subcommittee should have a meeting just on transportation issues.
Former Sen. Iris Estabrook raised her concern the funding formula was skewed because of the weight small schools receive and Luneau said that issue will also be discussed at future meetings.
The commission will meet with AIR officials to walk through the process of how the needed funding levels are determined for each district and how the weighting formula works to achieve the targeted goals.
The commission has a public comment period Wednesday for recent and current high school graduates to testify before the commission from 4 to 5 p.m. virtually. Subcommittees meet Sept. 29, and the commission holds a regular meeting Oct. 5.
The commission was presented a petition with more than 400 signatures of parents, educators, taxpayers, and community leaders. The petition notes the inequity across the state in educational opportunities for students and the great disparity in property taxes to support education.
While urging the commission to find a permanent and lasting solution the signers backed “strong efforts” to address the problems.
“The people who signed this petition are looking to the Commission to lead, to act, and to find a solution to the kinds of problems that keep them up at night – their kids’ education and the bills they have to pay.” Jeff McLynch, the New Hampshire School Funding Fairness Project’s director. “People understand that New Hampshire faces real challenges right now, but they want the Commission to be bold and to take a long-term approach to creating a school funding system that works for everyone.”
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.