As the SAU 1 administrative team and the ConVal School Board prepare to make important school budget decisions to be voted on at the district meeting this March, a familiar struggle is taking shape. The financial demands placed on local schools to maintain high-quality education plays out as taxpayers worry about affordability.
Why are we facing increasing tax rates to fund our schools at the local level? A driving force is New Hampshire lawmakers are downshifting school costs through unfunded mandates. This issue is the same for all of the 221 towns and 13 cities in New Hampshire. In addition, Federal laws which must be followed compound these costs as Federal grants do not fully cover the requirements necessary for compliance.
An unfunded mandate occurs when a new piece of state or federal legislation requires the school district to perform functions without providing funding, or adequate funding, to facilitate the requirement. The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution leaves the responsibility for public K-12 education with the states. Each school district is administered and financed by the local community along with that district’s state government. The New Hampshire Constitution guarantees an “adequate education” for all citizens of the state. The New Hampshire Constitution does not specify who is financially responsible for this guarantee. When the state or federal legislature passes a new law without funding, any increases in cost that result from complying with the unfunded mandate becomes part of the local school budget. Standards and quality of education consequently vary widely from state to state and even district to district. The local district is either supported or limited by its budget. The budget is dictated by what local taxpayers will approve.
Because of the increased awareness in disparity, during the 1960s compelling interest in our nation’s public schools was addressed by the Federal Government through the legislative process creating laws and providing assistance to states and schools through educational grants to enact these laws. Federal Education laws that are most commonly known are the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Title I, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and Every Student Succeeds Act (Common Core). These laws authorize federal grants for elementary and secondary school programs for children of low-income families; school library resources, textbooks and other instructional materials; supplemental education centers and services; strengthening state education agencies; education research; and professional development for teachers. While these federal grants provide support for their mandates, they do not cover the entire cost. The remaining cost must be covered by the state and local taxes. As the local school budget is built, all federal mandates must be met.
As far as New Hampshire State Education mandates and the effect they have on the local school budget you need only to turn to the local news to become apprised of the disparity in education funding occurring in New Hampshire and the impact it has on the local tax. Many of the educational laws passed by New Hampshire legislature and changes made to standards that come from the Department of Education are well intended to promote student success, but these laws do not, in many cases, come with any additional funding. An example of a state unfunded mandate is the 2016 New Hampshire K-12 STEM curriculum requirements. The requirements proposed will produce more skilled workers, inspire innovation, increase New Hampshire business growth and affect the New Hampshire economy. There is certainly a valid return on this educational investment. However, only a fraction of the additional funding needed to meet the new State STEM standards was provided to the schools and the result: The local property tax must increase to comply with the New Hampshire K-12 STEM initiative.
The administrators in the ConVal School District work year-round to produce all of the financial data necessary to analyze a “ConVal” education. The administration carefully checks off the right boxes on accounting and compliance reports required by the State and the Federal government to assure accuracy in crafting a fiscally sound budget. Detailed financial analysis is compiled to monitor and evaluate each school building’s expenditures. The focus of the Superintendent and the School Board is the classroom where the critical work happens and where the allocation of funds and resources provides services that affect student performance.
In summary, local schools are required to comply with federal and state-mandated laws. While federal and state laws’ express purposes are to raise achievement for all students and to close the achievement gap, the additional funding needed to translate laws or requirements into a classroom reality is not provided. The looming question as to whether or not the funding is adequate to accomplish the laws’ purpose has become clear and yet the funding issue remains unanswered by Washington lawmakers and the New Hampshire legislature. The growing reality for New Hampshire residents and businesses is that the burden falls on the local tax base to make up the difference. The ConVal School District is compelled to sustain high education standards and build a budget that supports those standards and student success. Residents can be assured that every local tax dollar spent in the ConVal School District is a closely monitored resource invested in a quality education for our students and our future.
For more detailed information on Federal Policy and NEW HAMPSHIRE Policy laws enacted that impact the budget and decision making at the local level please visit:
“Laws & Guidance Overview”, U.S. Department of Education, link
“The Federal Role in Education”, U.S. Department of Education, link
Baron, Kathryn. “Finding a Balance for the Federal Role in Education Policy”, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, December, 2016, link
“2019 State Education Policy Watchlist”, Education Commission of the States, link
Austin, Donald; Christina, Barrett. “2017 Legislative Summary”, New Hampshire School Boards Association, 2017, link
Zelin, Gerald M.. Glynn, Meghan S. “New State Statutes Regulating Schools”, Drummond Woodsum. Copyright 2018, All rights are expressly reserved. These materials may not be reproduced without prior written permission. link
“How the courts have shaped education funding, and what comes next”, Reaching Higher New Hampshire, March, 2019, link
Duffort, Lola.“Bill to limit unfunded mandates could have unintended effect on special ed” Concord Monitor. March, 2017. link
Leachman, Michael, Masterson, Kathleen, Figeuroa, Eric. “A Punishing Decade for School Funding” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. November, 2019, link