"…it shall be the
duty of the legislators…in all future periods of this government, to
cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries
and public schools…"
The above quote from the NH Constitution was the basis of the Supreme Court’s various Claremont case decisions beginning in 1993. In addition to the above, the constitution exhorts the legislators (not the legislature) to encourage "the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and natural history of the country."
In Claremont I, the N.H. Supreme Court wrongly interpreted the word "cherish" to mean that the state was constitutionally obligated to pay for education. In Claremont II, the court said all students were to be funded equally with taxes that were equal across the state. Nowhere in the constitution was there any requirement for the state to define an "adequate education" nor was there any statement that funding had to be equal to all students whether their town required assistance or not.
Originally, conservative legislators (I among them) attempted to defy the court. Unsuccessful in that effort, the legislators have attempted many constitutional amendments, legislatively called CACRs, but could not pass any with a sufficient majority to make it onto the ballot. In the meantime, there has come about a general consensus that rather than giving a set amount for each student regardless of individual town need, funds should be targeted to towns that need the money the most.
This year we may finally get the opportunity to pass a rational amendment to target aid as the General Court (the state legislature) deems appropriate. All sides seem to be coalescing on specific language to finally see our goal in sight – a reasonable amendment that would allow targeting aid and change little else, and that would restore the ability of the elected legislature to make its own decisions rather than deferring to the unelected Supreme Court.
CACR 12 has passed both the Senate and the House, albeit in slightly different forms. Thus a committee of conference is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22 to iron out those differences. Most are hopeful it can be done. But there are detractors in both parties.
Ultra conservatives decry the fact that the amendment’s declaration that the state has a "responsibility" to fund education enshrines the Claremont decisions in the constitution. But who would deny that the state has a funding role to play in the education of our children, especially in towns that cannot afford to do it?
Without the word "responsibility" in the text, we will not get agreement on this amendment. Although the governor has no role in constitutional amendments, this popular governor’s approval will go a long way toward boosting the effort. We need the support of moderate Democrats and Republicans to pass this solution. We also need to get a two-thirds vote of the public at the November elections. Without the word "responsibility", the amendment will not pass muster.
We need to settle this issue by passing this amendment.