CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire lawmakers hoping to lessen the influence of courts in school funding still can't agree on how to do it.
They have tried and failed dozens of times over the years to nullify the state Supreme Court's landmark 1997 ruling requiring the state to provide all public school children with an adequate education.
Given the Republican supermajorities in both the House and Senate, this session marked the best shot in years for passing a constitutional amendment, but consensus appears unlikely as the session winds down.
The House on Wednesday tabled the Senate's proposed constitutional amendment that would have given the Legislature the power to define educational standards, determine the amount of state funding and mitigate disparities among communities. A few hours later, the Senate similarly delayed action on the House-passed version, voting to hold onto the bill for further study during the summer and fall.
"It is clear that the House is divided on the language," House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt of Salem said in backing the motion to table the Senate's proposed amendment. "This language is neither pleasing to the House nor the governor. Negotiations continue between the House and the Senate and the governor to try to find language we can all agree with, but this will not be the vehicle."
After the 1997 court ruling, the state began providing a base per-pupil amount to all communities, funded through various state taxes and a new state property tax. That has prompted some wealthy communities to complain that they are helping pay for education in poorer towns because they raise more through the education property tax than they get in aid. And lawmakers who back constitutional amendments argue that the court stripped away local control over education decisions.
Constitutional amendments need approval by 60 percent of the House and Senate to be placed on the ballot, and approval by two-thirds of voters to take effect. One sticking point has been whether any plan without a guarantee of per-pupil funding could pass. And while Democratic Gov. John Lynch supports changing the constitution so state aid can be targeted to needier communities, he also wants to maintain the state's responsibility for education.