NH News
12:00 am
Fri October 21, 2011

Governor Lynch Calls For Education Funding Amendment

Governor John Lynch surprised top Republican lawmakers today when he released an education funding constitutional amendment.

The amendment would give the state more discretion to target financial aid to schools than it has today.

Critics are concerned about how the governor’s proposal would affect court oversight of education funding.

Governor John Lynch and Republican leaders all want to see the state adopt a constitutional amendment.

Lynch, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President share the belief the state should target money to the neediest communities... even if that means other cities and towns get nothing.

The three men have been meeting to hammer out a deal since December.

The governor says his proposal is the only way he knows to give all children in the state a good education.

“It affirms the state’s responsibility for public education. But at the same time it allows the state to send more money to the communities and children who need it more than others.”

The governor’s amendment- and all the others before it- are written in a code that means one thing to the guy at the end of the bar, and something else to constitutional lawyers.

One phrase, even a word, can be the difference in having enough support to get the measure passed.

House Speaker Bill O’Brien says he parts ways with the governor when he sees the phrase ‘authority and responsibility,’ as in the “legislature shall have the authority and responsibility to define reasonable standards for public education.”

O’Brien says that language signals a philosophical split.

“Do we want the discussion about the education of our children to be taking place at the local level or do we want the discussion of education funding for our children to be between judges, legislators and bureaucrats in Concord?”

O’Brien says that phrase ‘authority and responsibility’ means the courts can continue to oversee whether funding formulas and state standards are equitable and legal.

Attorney Andy Volinsky couldn’t disagree with O’Brien more.

Volinsky brought the original Claremont suit which put the state in its present legal bind.

Volinsky says the language that the legislature shall have “full discretion” to determine education funding guarantees the courts won’t get involved.

The lawyer calls the proposal a Trojan horse.

“This is trying to sneak in something that looks reasonable. But is in fact unreasonable, and removes the protections currently given to school children.”

“That’s absolutely nonsense.”

Governor Lynch says he’s been working with a team of lawyers for the past 7 years, including Chuck Douglas, Eugene Van Loan, Bill Ardinger and Martin Gross.

“And it’s clear to all of us that the courts can get involved if the state doesn’t live up to its responsibility.”

Clearly, the debate around court involvement will continue to smolder when lawmakers return to Concord in January.

Lynch and the Republicans may be closer than appears.

A veteran of the education funding debate, Republican Representative David Hess of Hooksett likes the Lynch amendment.

“At first blush, I think it goes a long way, maybe as far as any of might want to address the issue in a responsible way.”

That might be the majority view held in the Republican-dominated Senate.

But as it stands now, Hess will have to persuade a whole lot of House Republicans that Lynch’s proposal is the best deal on the table.