Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Education Funding, Chapter XXXVIII

Gov. John Lynch has entered the school funding fray, and based upon what I have seen so far, he seems to have come up with a sensible and creative approach to New Hampshire's perennial policy headache.

In the decade since the state Supreme Court's Claremont decision, the ed funding debate has degenerated into a theater of the surreal. Towns such as Amherst and Bedford, which have among the highest incomes in the country, have been designated "property poor" receiver towns, Manchester has seen its fortunes rise and fall with every change of the political winds, and efforts at addressing other education policy concerns have been tossed into cold storage while everyone bickers about the dollars.

Fortunately, the Lynch plan is an attempt to move the debate in a new direction. Whereas previous funding plans have focused on either the "donor town" vs. "receiver town" discrepancies or on blatant right-wing efforts to return to a pre-Claremont mythical utopia, the Lynch plan introduces what is being called the Education Equity Index.

The equity index uses a range of factors to direct aid towards communities that show the greatest needs for resources. The factors take into account a city or town's fiscal capacity, based upon median income and equalized property value; "classroom challenge" factors, which refers to socio-economic considerations such as the number of English as a Second Language students and the number of students receiving free or reduced school lunches; and performance factors, which is the use of test scores, graduation rates and post-secondary matriculation to track a school or district's real-world status.

The details still need to be placed on the table, and no plan ever survives the process intact. However, by making performance and student needs part of the equation, Gov. Lynch has moved the debate in a positive and refreshingly new direction.