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New Hampshire: Senate's plan for SPED funding could result in higher property taxes

Feb 23, 2019, New Hampshire Watchdog: Senate moves toward hike in special education funding, but worries emerge about overall rise in spending The New Hampshire Senate this week advanced a plan to bolster funding for special education, but not without a couple lawmakers expressing some reservations about the measure. Senate Bill 303 would make sure the Granite State reimburses school districts at 80 percent of their special education needs in fiscal year 2020 and at 90 percent the following year. Current state law requires the 80 percent funding commitment. However, it allows for reductions based on the funds allocated for expenditure. As a result, the state is currently reimbursing about 70 percent. For the 2019 fiscal year, school districts are receiving just more than $22.3 million. The state also reimburses for prior expenditures. That means districts relying on reimbursement end up scurrying to make up for the shortage a year later. State Sen. Jon Morgan, a sponsor of the bill, said when that happens, school districts often must raise property taxes. The Brentwood Democrat added that can pit neighbors against each other if a child requires such services. Another sponsor, state Sen. Jay Kahn, said he gets numerous calls from school board members asking why the state doesn’t meet its obligation. “We can do better, and that’s what this bill is trying to do,” the Keene Democrat told his colleagues. The bill, sponsored by four Democrats, would increase spending by nearly $3.9 million for the upcoming year and $8 million in 2021. That amount would grow to almost $9 million in 2022 and $9.9 million in 2023. The initial bill called on the state funding 100 percent of the expenditure starting in 2021, but the Education and Workforce Development Committee approved an amended version…. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote without opposition. It now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for its review. However, a couple senators urged caution in moving ahead. “I support the message that’s in this bill,” said state Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem. “I got that, but I also know what it’s like to be a Finance (Committee) chairman and built that budget. All it takes is something to go wrong in 2019 going into 2020, like a down economy or something, and we’ll be reneging on our word.” The current Finance Chairman, state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, said he also supports the bill, noting his background as a former school board member himself. The Manchester Democrat said he realizes districts are identifying more students with needs, such as autism. That said, D’Allesandro noted the Legislature is currently considering bills with $62 million in spending that was not in Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget. Those expenditures and the additional funding for special education “have got to fit within the balance of what we have,” he said.
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