Pelham - Windham News April 1, 2011 - 5
In My Opinion...
by John Knowles Recently, the New Hampshire House of Representatives proposed a constitutional amendment (CACR 12) to change the way the State funds education. Although it hasn’t been passed by the Senate, that appears likely.
One thing good about this mostly misguided amendment is that it would allow State aid to be “targeted;” that is, provided where it is most needed
without giving equal aid to other richer districts. That is a laudable goal. We do need a Constitutional amendment to specifically
allow state educational funds to be targeted to the towns that need them the most. It is a scandal that towns such as Litchfield and Derry – among those with the greatest needs in the state – are given a much smaller proportion of state funding. This is not just because the legislature doesn’t like those towns—there is a real limitation imposed by the Constitution, and that limitation should be removed. However, while it is clear that we need an amendment to
enable precise targeting, this is definitely not the one we need! Three members of the House – Speaker Bill O’Brien, Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, and Lynne Ober, Finance Committee Vice-Chair – recently published a statement explaining why they support CACR 12, but that statement was misleading in a number of ways. The text of the amendment: “… the general court shall have the authority and full discretion to define reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education, to establish reasonable standards of accountability therefor, and to mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity. Further, in the exercise thereof, the general court shall have full discretion to determine the amount of, and methods of raising and distributing, State funding for education.” The three authors of the statement make a number of claims for their amendment: • It will focus on a “high-quality education, not an adequate one.” This is simply a red herring. The court never said that we should have only an “adequate” education, but that the State was responsible for funding one. Individual districts can do anything they choose to provide a “high-quality” or “outstanding” education for their students. State funding of adequacy is just a basic floor, so that every district in the state can meet basic standards. Beyond that, the local taxpayers can choose to spend as much as they want in
by John Knowles
The Wrong Amendment order to do more.
• It will “take our courts out of the education discussion.” Democrats have already “taken the courts out of the education discussion” over the past two terms, by defining, costing, funding, and setting standards for an “adequate education.”
• It will “bring a resolution to this issue that stops the endless runs to the courtroom” and allow the legislature to bring a “measure of predictability” to education funding. The authors complain about “spreadsheet politics” and “an effort to buy votes based on amounts given to various communities.” This amendment would make things even worse by making funding a purely political issue with no Constitutional standard, with each district fighting for its own advantage! Let’s be clear about what the current House leaders’ amendment would do (since they are not being clear). It will remove any obligation of the State to provide funding for education. The State may still send funds to school districts, if it chooses, but it can just as well choose not to. And, because this authority would now be enshrined in the Constitution, there would be no legal recourse if the legislature cuts funding.
Remember that this problem arose in the 1990s because the legislature chose not to provide sufficient funding for the formula for state support of education that was in place at that time (the “Augenblick” formula). Let’s be honest, and I hope that the authors will, too. They do not want to spend more for education; they want to spend less. This amendment would give them legal cover to do just that. Why should we expect they won’t do so again in the future? There is much talk about how this amendment will restore “local control,” but that is just not true. The amendment would still allow the legislature to set standards, just as it can now. What the amendment actually does is allow the legislature to reduce the resources for most school districts; it provides the “flexibility to do better with less.” It may be that some districts will get a higher proportion of total aid, but if the total goes down, will they actually be any better off? In short, CACR 12 is an amendment that will eliminate a long standing responsibility of the State to support education, and transfer a significant part of that responsibility, and its cost, to the local districts.
John Knowles is a former State Representative, and has served as a member of the Hudson School Board and Budget Committee.
In My Opinion is strictly an OP-ED column that stands on the opinion of one writer, John Knowles, as opposed to a news- paper reporter who does not provide an opinion but reports the facts. This column, in many instances, is a counterpoint to published stories and does not reflect the unbiased reporting policy of the Pelham~Windham News or the opinion of the management, advertisers and ownership of Area News Group.
Shaheen Announces Grant for Pelham Fire Department
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has announced that
the Pelham Fire Department has been awarded money for operations and safety through the Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. “It is crucial that our firefighters have the equipment and tools they need to keep themselves and their communities safe,” Shaheen said. “These grants will allow for gear upgrades that increase safety, and the modernized equipment will allow firefighters to respond more quickly to emergency situations.” The Pelham Fire Department will use its $33,488 grant to
purchase laptops, which will be installed in all vehicles to allow firefighters heading to emergency situations to obtain crucial information quickly from department headquarters. “Installing these systems will enable firefighters to access critical information where they most need it, at the scene when responding to incidents, which is not possible without mobile data systems,” said Pelham Fire Chief James Midgley. Chief Midgley recalled a time when he had recently joined the
force and responded to an incident at a chemical facility. He said the firefighters had no idea how many people worked in the building or what kind of hazardous chemicals were stored there. Having that information before responding to the incident, he said, would have been extremely useful, and would have increased the safety of responders and those on the scene. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program provides funding to local fire departments to help them improve the effectiveness of firefighting operations through specialized emergency training for response to situations like terrorist attacks; enhancement of emergency medical services programs; development of
health and safety initiatives; establishment of fire education and prevention programs; creation of wellness and fitness programs; and equipment and facility upgrades. All grants require a local match.
Ed Hurrell Pelham, NH
Charlie with Night Walks
One way you can interest your children in nature is to take them on a night walk. We often overlook the wildlife that come out at night, and this is a great way to get your children excited about conservation.
Insects are particularly active on warm nights. Try looking for fireflies, moths, and crickets. An easy way to look at them closely without causing injury is to capture the insect in a clear jar and cover the top with cheesecloth held down by a large rubber band around the rim. Owls, such as barred, great-horned, and eastern screech, are often quite vocal at night. Learning the calls with your children and listening for them is a lot of fun, especially if you learn to call back. Bats are also a favorite with children. Watch for bats feeding on insects near streetlights, along woodland edges, or over water. They are active from sunset to sunrise, although you are more likely to see them just at dusk when there is still a little ambient light. Flying squirrels are also nocturnal. Though they don’t really fly, they can glide up to 150 feet and are adept at sneaking seeds at bird feeders. They are more difficult to see than bats, as they require forests with tall trees from which to glide. Remember to be respectful of the animals you observe. Always handle insects and amphibians gently and return them where you found them. Also, white or bright lights at night can disturb wildlife, so try to minimize the amount of light you use. The best method is to use a red filter for your flashlight. In addition, if you want to attract more nocturnal animals to your backyard, consider installing owl boxes, bat houses, or a shelter for tree frogs.
Charlie Chalk can be reached at email@example.com
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