Judge rules for plaintiffs in ConVal education-funding lawsuit

  • ConVal High School. FILE PHOTO

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/20/2023 3:25:48 PM
Modified: 11/20/2023 3:25:27 PM

Rockingham County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff ruled Monday that the state’s funding formula violates students’ constitutional right to an “adequate education,” a victory for the ConVal Regional School District and its co-plaintiffs in the case.

“Today’s decision reflects what has been apparent for years -- that the State of New Hampshire has not lived up to its legal and moral obligation to adequately fund public education,” ConVal Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders stated. “The state’s formula places an incredible burden on local communities, and creates inequities that deny all students the best possible education. Students succeed because of dedicated teachers and staff.”

ConVal filed suit against the state and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut in 2019, arguing that the state neglected its constitutional obligation. Mascenic Regional School District signed on as a co-plaintiff, along with Claremont, Derry Co-Operative, Fall Mountain, Grantham, Hillsboro-Deering, Hopkinton, Lebanon, Manchester, Mascoma Valley, Monadnock, Nashua, Newport, Oyster River, Winchester and Windham. According to a release from ConVal, the districts educate almost one-quarter of New Hampshire’s public school students.

The state is constitutionally required to fund “base adequacy” in education as ordered by the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s Claremont rulings in 1993 and 1997. As part of their argument that base adequacy aid was constitutionally insufficient, the plaintiffs highlighted the costs of employee salaries and benefits, transportation, maintaining teacher-to-student ratios, food services and facilities operation and maintenance. In response, the state questioned whether and to what extent it must fund those items.

In 2022, the district stated that the average per-pupil cost of education K-through-12 was $19,399, but the state funded base adequacy at $3,786. As of July 1, the Legislature amended the amount to provide for base adequacy aid of $4,100 per pupil.

Ruoff began hearing evidence in April, and the trial lasted three weeks. In his 56-page ruling, Ruoff wrote that $4,100 per per pupil falls short of what is required, as while “the Legislature should have the final word, but the base adequacy cost can be no less than $7,356.01 per pupil per year and the true cost is likely much higher than that. The Court cannot ignore the substantial evidence put forth by the plaintiffs: evidence that amply demonstrates the insufficiency of the existing base adequacy aid figure.”

“We thank Judge Ruoff for his careful, thoughtful consideration of the arguments,” Rizzo-Saunders stated. “And we welcome the court’s reaffirmation that the state is responsible to its children, and to the communities who have struggled with an unfair financial burden for more than a generation.”

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