By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — A study commission believes the state’s education funding system should be based on student performance.
The Commission to Study School Funding took a straw poll Monday on changing how state aid for public education is determined, with several members calling it revolutionary, and two members unable to support it.
The commission did not make any decisions on how new or existing state and local resources could be distributed to achieve the goal.
The new methodology would determine what it would cost each school district to provide its students the opportunity to achieve the statewide average for student performance.
Under the concept, the cost would vary school district to school district based on student needs, enrollment and assessments.
Commission member Bill Ardinger called the proposal a revolutionary step that changes the focus to student performance instead of a list of inputs like library type and student-teacher ratios.
“The costs would be different for every district and that is revolutionary,” he said. “This says we are going to support as a group moving away from the current model for the last 25 years of substantive content as the definition of adequacy.”
He called that a fundamental change.
But commission chair Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton, said the intent is not to set aside the current definition of adequacy tied to the minimum standards and other guidelines because they have allowed students to reach the statewide average outcomes, which are among the best in the county.
“The suggestion is to change the cost of adequacy to reflect the estimated cost model determined by student outcomes and the characteristics of the students and districts,” Luneau said.
“We are developing a cost estimate model based on achievable comparable outcomes,” said Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, who chairs the commission’s adequacy study group making the recommendation. “In the change, we do not want to say we abandoned the current statute because we are not doing that.”
But Rep. Mel Myler, D-Hopkinton, said the change is fundamental.
“The commission needs to make a single commitment on the issue of outcome-based funding period,” Myler said. “Once that is made, all the other elements fall in line and give you the framework.”
He said the Department of Education did not have the data ten years ago to develop an outcome based model but it does now.
“We are making a commitment to move to an outcome-based model and how that impact kids, that is a threshold question,” Myler said. “I do believe that is a fundamental change in looking at how we provide funding for our students across the state.”
Luneau said the commission understands that some districts will need greater support to reach the goal, but “how we go about that is a different thing.”
“What is revolutionary is estimating the cost of the opportunity for an adequate education based on every student receiving the same educational outcomes whether you go to school in Manchester or go to school in Bow or Claremont or Berlin,” Luneau said. “What Manchester has to do to (reach that goal) is different than what Bow does or Berlin does.”
Although some have raised the possibility the new cost-based methodology would be unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s 2006 Londonderry decision that the state has to pay for the cost of an adequate education whether the district is property poor or property wealthy, Luneau said the commission is doing what the court said to do, which is for the legislature to define an adequate education and what it cost.
“The job New Hampshire has done on what defines an adequate education and getting there on a statewide basis is pretty darn good, we’re among the best in the country,” Luneau said “What we haven’t been doing a good job on is costing.”
Former Sen. Iris Estabrook, who chaired a commission in 2009 that developed the current definition of an adequate education and a state aid distribution formula that was never implemented after a new legislature took over and developed its own formula in 2011, did not support the concept.
She said the concept they were presented Monday was not the statement the adequacy group worked on in committee.
What is being presented is so broad it leaves it wide open for many different methodologies, she said.
Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, also did not support the concept.
Several commission members continued to be concerned about using district size to increase state aid to small districts.
The American Institutes of Research, hired by the commission to develop a report on the equity of the current funding system and to develop a new funding formula, changed the weights used to determine state aid to districts. Under the new plan the group proposed a sliding scale instead of four different categories with differing amounts of state aid.
Several commission members were concerned the weighting element rewards small schools in property wealthy communities and could be seen as an incentive to keep schools small when they would be more fiscally efficient if they were consolidated.
The commission holds its next regular meeting Oct. 19, and will hold several meetings for public comments between now and the next meeting.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.