By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — A trial date has been set for the latest challenge to New Hampshire’s education funding system. The trial in Grafton County Superior Court is scheduled for August 2023.
The suit filed by several state residents who are also commercial and residential property owners claims the state failed to meet the 1997 Supreme Court’s Claremont II decision declaring the use of local property taxes with varying rates to pay for the state’s obligation to provide its students with an adequate education is unconstitutional.
The court said local property taxes serve as state taxes when they help pay the state’s obligation to provide an adequate education. Local property taxes are a vast majority of the funding for public education in the state and create inequities between property poor and property wealthy communities for students and taxpayers.
In its ruling 25 years ago, the court said the constitution requires taxes to be “equal in valuation and uniform in rate throughout the State” when it declared the education funding system unconstitutional.
Brought by property owners in Plymouth and Penacook, a village in the City of Concord, the new suit focuses on the disparities in tax rates among the Pemi-Baker and the Merrimack Valley and Concord school districts. Penacook has historically had its own school district separate from Concord.
The funding suit is separate from the Con-Val lawsuit claiming the state fails to pay the true cost of an adequate education. That suit is scheduled for trial in April and a judge declined to consolidate the two suits as the plaintiffs had hoped.
The latest suit focuses solely on three aspects of the education funding system: the disparities in property tax rates, the inequities in the statewide education property tax (SWEPT) collection and the use of negative local school property tax rates to avoid paying the statewide education tax.
The lead attorney in the suit is Andru Volinsky, who was the lead attorney in the Claremont suit more than 20 years ago.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.