State AG response to lawsuit: Schools spending on 'constitutionally unnecessary' programs

·2 min read

Sep. 9—New Hampshire's Attorney General argued in a response to a new lawsuit over school funding that disparities between the money spent in rich and poor districts arises from some schools spending on "unnecessary" programs, and argued that the court system has no role in figuring out how much the state should contribute to public education.

The state filed its response Wednesday to a lawsuit filed in June by three plaintiffs from Plymouth and the village of Penacook in Concord, who face higher tax burdens to fund schools because their towns have low property values.

A coalition of lawyers including Andru Volinsky and John Tobin is representing the taxpayers. The two were part of the legal team that convinced the Supreme Court to rule in 1997 that the state had to increase aid to schools to reduce the over-reliance on local property taxes.

The key focus of the suit is the widely varying rates of taxes used to fund schools, a responsibility spelled out in the New Hampshire Constitution and Claremont I (1993) and Claremont II (1997) decisions, Tobin said.

The differences between property-rich and property-poor towns mean that property-poor towns have to either tax their residents at higher rates to come up with the same amount of money that rich communities are able to spend, or settle for spending less on schools.

In a response filed in Grafton County Superior Court on Tuesday, the state, represented by Attorney General John Formella, said differences in how much different towns spend to educate students arise from "the provision of constitutionally unnecessary services."

The Claremont decisions spelled out the state's duty to provide for an "adequate" education under the state constitution. In the response, Formella argued that some towns provide far more than is "adequate," or spend on things that are not needed or obsolete.

Formella also argues that the court system should have no role in state education funding, arguing that such matters would be better left to the state Legislature.