The latest lawsuit challenging New Hampshire’s school funding model hinges on a key question: How much should the state pay to provide a constitutionally adequate education?
Testimony Tuesday by Department of Education commissioner Frank Edelblot suggests the answer may be difficult for a judge to close.
During more than an hour of cross-examination in Rockingham County Superior Court, Edelblut refused to specify which educational services he believed the state was required to support in order to meet the adequacy standard. This standard was set by the state Supreme Court in the 1992 Claremont I decision, in which the court ruled that the Constitution “imposes a duty on the state to provide a constitutionally adequate education for every teachable child in the public schools of New Hampshire and to ensure adequate funding.”
in Contoocook Valley School District and Winchester School District v. State of New HampshireKnown as the ConVal case, school districts argue that the state’s current funding formula does not provide for that adequate education. They have asked the courts to determine whether the appropriate amount of government funding per pupil should be higher – and by a much higher amount.
In response to questions from Michael Tierney, the attorney representing school districts, Edelblott said the definition of “adequacy” could not be easily answered by state administrative rules imposed on schools. These rules set minimum requirements for school districts, including those that provide required classes ranging from the arts to the physical sciences in order for students to meet graduation requirements. But Edelbolt said these requirements are not necessarily the same as what schools must constitutionally provide.
“They have to comply with all of these clauses in order to provide a constitutionally adequate education, right?” Tierney asked. “I don’t agree with that,” replied Edelblot.
Edelblot added, “I believe that the requirements for a constitutionally adequate education are not necessarily tied to a variety of organizational schemes that are imposed on the school outside of the law that enumerates what is required for a constitutionally adequate education.”
Edelblut noted that school districts can now apply to the state board of education for waivers from any state administrative rules, Thanks to a new lawwhich means that it is not as rigid as the constitution.
At one point in the testimony, Judge David Rove stepped in to cross-examine Edelblot.
“I’m still trying to find out whether or not the standards for graduation are the same as those for a constitutionally appropriate education,” said Rove. “I guess they aren’t.”
Edelblot replied, “No, Your Honor.”
Rove added that the question of what is constitutionally required is the crux of the issue — and his decision.
“The legislature is basically saying … the state has an obligation to fund the floor,” he said. And my obligation in this case is to try to find out where this line is. And I’m just trying to figure out how to do that, when it only lists “mathematics” (in legal requirements for schools)”.
Edelblot’s answers mean that Rove will likely need to use sources other than the Department of Education to determine constitutionally appropriate education, if he rules in favor of the plaintiffs.
New Hampshire RSA 193 It sets out a number of general requirements for determining appropriate education, including that schools teach students “a skill in reading, writing, and speaking English to enable them to communicate effectively and think creatively and critically,” and “a skill in mathematics and a familiarity with science to enable them to analyze information, solve problems, and make decisions.” rational.”
But the law doesn’t go into detail, and departmental administrative rules, local school boards’ curricula, and school principals themselves are tasked with filling in the loopholes. Currently, New Hampshire pays about $3,800 per student in basic adequacy assistance to school districts, plus additional amounts for low-income students and students with special educational needs; The lawsuit says the payment should be much higher.
ConVal’s case has rebounded around state courts in recent years. In 2019, Rove ruled that the state funding formula was unconstitutional. When the state appealed the case to the Supreme Court, the court refused to make a sweeping ruling similar to the Claremont decisions of the 1990s, instead sending the case back to the Supreme Court and ordering that court to decide what, specifically, school districts should provide an appropriate education.
Rove is currently overseeing that trial; The trial began April 10 and is expected to run through May 5.