Manchester school district joins ConVal lawsuit over education funding

·3 min read

May 17—The state's largest school district is joining the school funding lawsuit that accuses New Hampshire of failing to adequately fund public education.

School board members voted Monday to allow the Manchester school district to join the lawsuit known as ConVal, for the lead plaintiff, the Contoocook Valley School District.

The vote was 12-0 in favor of joining the lawsuit. Manchester school board members Peter Perich, Jane Beaulieu and Kelly Thomas were absent for the vote.

"The state of New Hampshire is not living up to its responsibility to adequately fund public education. As the largest school district in the state, Manchester feels the impacts of this failure more than most," said Mayor Joyce Craig, who serves as Chair of the Board of School Committee. "According to the National Education Association, New Hampshire spends the lowest amount of state money and highest amount of local money on public education. By joining this suit, the Board of School Committee is fighting for not only our students, but our local property taxpayers, who have been stuck making up the difference for far too long."

The original suit, filed in 2019, maintains that the State of New Hampshire does not live up to its constitutional obligation to provide funding for an adequate education for all New Hampshire students. On average, a New Hampshire public school education costs $16,000 per student per year, and this suit argues that the current base adequacy funding of $3,636 per student is not enough to pay for the education that districts are required to provide.

Earlier this year, the New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected the state's attempt to have the lawsuit thrown out, but sent the case back to the Superior Court to define the costs of the adequate education that districts are constitutionally required to provide.

Superior Court Judge David Ruoff will hold hearings to allow ConVal and its co-plaintiffs to present factual evidence that the state underfunds education. An evidentiary hearing is unlikely to be held before summer 2022.

Prior to the Supreme Court hearing, Manchester School District joined a letter of support for the ConVal case, but had not signed on as a plaintiff.

Manchester joins the Claremont, Derry, Fall Mountain, Grantham, Hillsboro-Deering, Mascenic, Mascoma Valley, Monadnock, Newport, Oyster River and Winchester school districts as plaintiffs in the case against the State of New Hampshire.

Districts have until May 22 to join the lawsuit and more districts are expected to join in the coming days.

School board vice chair Leslie Want cited published reports claiming the state has already spent $2.4 million on this lawsuit.

"That just makes it a David and Goliath," said Want. "It's like the state is just fighting its own school districts. The local taxpayer is shouldering most of the burden for education, and we as a district can do something about that by joining this lawsuit."

"I think it's an absolute shame that the state continues to spend millions of dollars on lawyers and legal fees instead of on educating students," said Ward 5's Jeremy Dobson. "I think it's important for the city of Manchester to get behind this lawsuit."

Other school board members also expressed support for joining the lawsuit.

"We are certainly inadequately funded," said new Ward 1 school board member Julie Turner. "I think it's an honorable case. I think it's a winnable case."