By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — An expert analysis of education funding equity across the state shows great disparity in student performance and how much is spent per pupil.
The presentation by American Institutes for Research to the Education Funding Commission Monday essentially told the members what many people have claimed for years: students in property poor districts do not have the same opportunities and outcomes as those in property wealthy districts.
The institute’s work looked at four major areas: equity of funding related to economic disadvantage and property valuation; student outcomes in relation to district needs; the cost of providing an adequate education in each district, and factors that increase the costs of educating students such as poverty, special education, non-English speakers and district size and how they are used to develop a formula.
The experts found that:
The existing school funding system is inequitable for student and taxpayers;
Students in districts with a higher percentage of disadvantaged students — low-income, students on individual education plans, English learners etc. — do not perform as well those in districts with fewer educational needs;
Districts with higher needs and smaller districts require more spending per student to achieve average outcome levels,
And a proposed funding formula providing additional resources to property poorer districts with lower student outcomes would more adequately fund high-need districts.
The group used assessment results, graduation rates and attendance rates to determine average student outcome and then what factors influence that such as poverty, special education, etc.
Drew Atchison of AIR said New Hampshire has very high students outcomes compared to the rest of the country, second only to Massachusetts, so the analysis did not look to improve outcomes on average or spend more money than is currently spent on education in New Hampshire.
He said they used different combinations of New Hampshire data as well as regional and national data to test the consistency in the two models and validate the New Hampshire specific information.
“Local education property tax rates vary substantially across districts. Districts with the highest local education property tax rates often achieve lower spending per student than districts with lower property tax rates,” the report notes. “Districts with the lowest property wealth have the highest local education property tax rates, on average.”
They also found a strong negative correlation between districts with the greatest student needs and student outcomes.
The analysis found the predicted spending needed to reach current student outcomes ranged from $13,000 per pupil to $40,000 per pupil with a mean of $13,500 which reflected actual spending across the state.
Using existing data the group determined the cost of an adequate education statewide including transportation to be $5,974 per pupil and without transportation $5,069, not considering the additional costs driven by poverty, special education and English language learners.
When those factors are added back in, the base cost per pupil is just below $15,000 which is close to the actual average in the state.
“Under the funding model, high-need districts would get a boost in funding, whereas low-need districts would potentially lose funding unless funding differences were made up for with local revenue,” the report notes. “This redistribution of funding is necessary to achieve a fairer and more equitable funding system.”
Atchison said no new money would be added to the system, so while some districts would receive greater funding under the formula, the districts in property wealthy towns would lose funding which includes all local, state and federal sources.
Using the formula communities such as Newport, Franklin, Manchester, Pittsfield and Claremont would have greater per pupil spending, while Hanover, Bedford and Portsmouth would have less.
“Those districts with low needs would get substantially less than they are spending to achieve a more equitable funding system,” Atchison said, “unless you want to increase funding to hold the higher district harmless, but that would be much more than you are spending now.”
Commission member Bill Ardinger noted there is a difference between correlation and causation, noting there are variables that could change student outcomes that are not related to dollars, and they need to be careful in that discussion.
Atchison said there is a growing body of thought that school spending matters and especially for higher poverty students, but everyone at the meeting knows how you spend the dollars matters.
Several commission members asked how the numbers would be different if Manchester, the state’s biggest school district, were removed from the equation.
Jesse Levine of AIR said the city has a large number of children in poverty, special education and English learners which increases the needs, yet falls significantly short in per pupil spending.
He said that recreates a bigger gap overall resulting in a bigger redistribution of resources than if it were not in the mix.
The next step for the group is to factor in revenues and how to develop a formula to distribute resources to make the system equitable.
The commission hosts a public comment period at 4 p.m. on Wednesday and meets again Aug. 17.
The commission was established in the 2020-2021 budget package to address the growing disparity in property tax rates that have been skyrocketing for property poor districts.
A superior court judge ruled last year the state’s education funding system is unconstitutional and the state appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court.
Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Sept. 24.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.