New Hampshire Legislators Seek to Stop Courts from Considering Education Funding

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For advocates seeking equitable funding of K-12 education, state court decisions have been crucial for over a quarter century. From Arkansas to New York, many states have improved their education funding systems, in part, because state supreme courts have told them they have to. (Unlike the US Constitution, virtually every state constitution includes language guaranteeing a basic education to its residents ... and many states have failed to comply with this basic guarantee.) In the states, as in Washington DC, this is exactly what courts are supposed to do: rap lawmakers on the knuckles when they pass laws that violate fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution.

But some New Hampshire lawmakers don't see it that way. Senate President Ted Gatsas has introduced a constitutional amendment that would actually prevent state courts from determining whether New Hampshire is living up to its constitutional responsibility to adequately fund schools. In a series of court decisions collectively known as the Claremont cases, New Hampshire courts have ruled that the state does have a constitutional obligation to adequately fund schools ... and that the state is not currently doing so. Four Republican ex-governors got together last week to voice their support for "return[ing] control of education policy to the legislature."

The cause of the latest ruckus? A September court decision ruling that the state must take steps to determine what an "adequate" education really means. If the legislature fails to act by next summer, the court has said it may step in. Constitutions are generally thought of as sets of rules that legislators cannot violate, in order to protect citizens, so it's peculiar that the interpretation of these rules would be given to the legislators. No word yet on whether the state legislature would be in charge of safeguarding all other fundamental rights in the Granite State.

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