By Eugene van Loan and Martin Gross
The New Hampshire Senate recently passed and sent to the House of Representatives yet another proposed constitutional amendment designed to specify our state Legislature’s authority and responsibility regarding state aid to local education, including the ability to use “targeted” aid as the basic form of education funding.
So, is this just deja vu all over again?
No, this time things are different. The Senate-passed proposal, known as CACR 12, is truly a bipartisan, multi-branch product.
Despite years of pronouncements by politicians of all stripes about how much a constitutional amendment is needed to restore stability and common sense to education funding, the various participants in the debate have never been able to agree on specifics.
CACR 12, however, not only received overwhelming Republican support in the Senate, but it was also supported by Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, of Manchester, and has since been endorsed by Democratic Gov. John Lynch.
Further, within days of the Senate action, a number of business and community groups publicly signed on in support. Included within this group were the Business and Industry Association, New Hampshire Auto Dealers Association, the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce and representatives of the so-called Coalition Communities.
Even so, some say CACR 12 still faces an uncertain future in the House. This is because a three-fifths vote is required to pass any legislative proposal for a constitutional amendment and, thus, any combination of “no” votes – despite being based upon objections that could not be more different from each other – would thwart the proposed amendment from receiving the necessary supermajority vote.
We two join today to urge our fellow citizens who serve in the House not to let this happen. One of us is a Democrat, and one of us is a Republican. Both of us have dedicated much of our time and energies over the years to public service of one type or another.
Both of us are lawyers who supposedly know a thing or two about constitutional law. And both of us ardently support the notion that quality education is critical to our state’s economic success and the vitality of its civic institutions.
We join in common cause because we believe CACR 12 is just plain good public policy. We do not base our support for this proposal upon what “the framers intended” or whether the Supreme Court got it right or wrong in the Claremont cases. We just know that where we are is not where we ought to be.
Each of us would perhaps emphasize different features of CACR 12. On the one hand, Mr. Gross would emphasize its elimination of the court-dictated requirement that the state provide the same amount of aid to all school districts in the form of “adequacy payments” and, thus, he would focus upon its substitution of legislative authority and responsibility to target state aid to communities that truly need it.
He would point out that, especially in these days of scarce public resources, there is no real justification for force-feeding funds to communities that can support a high level of educational effort with their own local resources.
Mr. Van Loan, on the other hand, would emphasize that CACR 12, while not eliminating the courts from the equation, restores the responsibility for making educational policy to the democratically elected branches of government.
He would point out that, also especially in these days of scarce public resources to which Mr. Gross refers, determining how much to spend on various public policy objectives – including but not limited to education – should be the business of the Legislature, not the courts.
But these are only differences in emphasis, not points of disagreement. On the contrary, we agree on the general need for a constitutional amendment and on the language for such an amendment that is contained in CACR 12.
Accordingly, we urge members of the House not to let your own points of emphasis determine whether you will support this particular constitutional amendment. Much has been said recently about the perfect being the enemy of the good, and it certainly applies here.
Just remember: If there is no amendment at all, none of us gets the perfect; what we get is what we have right now, and that is no good at all.
Eugene Van Loan is a frequent author of articles on constitutional law and past chairman of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy. Martin Gross is a longtime Democratic activist and former mayor of Concord.