Paradis, Volinsky: Portsmouth, funding for Somersworth schools is far from equal. What we can do about it. | Opinion
New Hampshire students have the best and the worst futures, thanks to our inequitable school funding system. Our skewed funding structure has allowed our state to boast some of the best schools in the country in its wealthiest communities, while having school districts in which none of the high school graduates are deemed college ready.
In the landmark Claremont II case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that our state’s children and taxpayers are entitled to a fully integrated statewide school funding system. Yet the state of New Hampshire has attempted to sustain a failed “separate but equal” school funding system in the nearly 25 years since that decision.
Let’s start by looking at two of these separate municipalities – Somersworth and Portsmouth – to see if “equal” applies. Both are great communities full of hard working people, but the people of Somersworth suffer from many economic disadvantages, which our state’s school funding system only exacerbates. The American dream of moving forward by studying and working hard is illusory for many in Somersworth. In one sentence, here’s why: Somersworth’s children have higher needs and their parents typically earn less – yet Somersworth residents pay higher school taxes and their children receive less for those higher taxes.
Using the latest data from the New Hampshire Department of Education, Portsmouth spends an average of $ 19,236 for each child in its school system. Somersworth is spending $ 15,833, about $ 3,400 less per child. Somersworth school taxes are $ 15.75 for every $ 1,000 of property value. Portsmouth school taxes are $ 6.09 per $ 1,000. The same disparity applies to landlords and their tenants, as well as business owners in these two cities. State funding to municipalities does not even overcome local funding disparities.
While teachers and administrators in Somersworth and Portsmouth work extremely hard, the average teacher in Portsmouth earns $ 26,000 more each year than a teacher in Somersworth. Student results are equally disparate: According to US News and World Report, 96% of students graduated from Portsmouth High School, while only 77% graduated from Somersworth High School. Almost three-quarters of Portsmouth graduates are proficient in reading and more than half are proficient in math. Less than half of Somersworth’s graduates are proficient in reading and about a quarter are proficient in math. New Hampshire uses the SATs as a skills test for grade 11 students. The average percentile of Portsmouth students is 79%; for Somersworth, it’s 9.9 percent.
Why do New Hampshire schools operate this way, where children with the highest needs get the fewest resources while their parents pay the highest taxes?
This is because New Hampshire is in the last place in the country for state funding for public schools due to its over-reliance on local property taxes to fund education, despite values very variable land tenure.
Portsmouth has over $ 3 million in taxable property per child in the district. In Somersworth, the value of available property is less than a quarter of it, at $ 737,354 per child. The state average is $ 1.2 million.
Portsmouth and Somersworth aren’t the most extreme. Newington has over $ 15 million in assets available to tax for every child. The Newington children attend Portsmouth High School. Farmington, on the other hand, only has $ 697,654 in property tax value per child. US News said none of the kids who graduated from Farmington High School were ready for college. Under New Hampshire’s education funding system, none of the wealth of Newington and Portsmouth is shared with the state or any other community.
Disparities like these exist all over our state. In Berlin chemistry is taught by video because the high school lacks a certified chemistry teacher. The children of Pittsfield study foreign languages with Rosetta Stone, not in a classroom supervised by a teacher. In Manchester, an elementary school achieved single-digit scores in math and English in grades three, four and five. None of these practices would be acceptable in the wealthier communities of New Hampshire. The parents would be scandalized.
Of course, many wealthy communities would like to keep what they consider to be their privilege and advantage. At the time of the Claremont school funding litigation, Portsmouth organized a coalition of wealthy towns to fight against any responsibility to contribute to the educational economy of the region or state. Today, Portsmouth uses its municipal budget to pay private lobbyists to preserve its privileged status. Considering the high costs of housing in Portsmouth, this is really a case of lien protecting lien. This is also short-sighted as Portsmouth is part of a regional economy that would benefit from a well-educated regional workforce capable of finding affordable housing.
First, we need to name the problem. It is myopic self-interest, privilege and greed.
Second, we need to organize and educate ourselves about how the current system hurts both children and taxpayers and limits the supply of educated workers and affordable housing.
Third, we must work for a solution. This is where local city officials come in most. To date, most leaders have been content to beg for extra money for their city or local school district. Sometimes it has been successful, but the problem is not solved with a one-time injection of extra money. To solve this problem, we need a sustainable system of funding our schools and leaders that will reverse the status quo by advocating for big changes in the way we fundraise for schools and other important services. in New Hampshire. It takes personal and political courage to challenge this inequitable status quo, and since the current leaders have failed to take on this role, we must elect new leaders ready to push for the necessary reforms. This will improve the quality of life for all Granite Staters. Our residents and students deserve nothing less.
Crystal Paradis is General Councilor on Somersworth City Council. Andru Volinsky is a former member of the New Hampshire Executive Council and was the lead counsel in the landmark Claremont education funding case.