NEA-New Hampshire President Megan Tuttle offered testimony today in opposition to HB 1393, a bill that would inflict Croydon-like damage on every school district in the state. Her testimony appears below:
Dear Chairman Gray and Honorable members of the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee,
My name is Megan Tuttle, President of NEA-NH, and I have the honor of representing more than 17,000 educators across our state who have gone to extraordinary lengths over the last 2 years to meet the countless challenges this pandemic has presented them so they can deliver the best education possible to the people who matter most to them, our students. Today, I am writing to express our opposition to HB 1393, relative to the adoption of school budget caps.
We are opposed to HB 1393 because of the nonsensical, rigid methodology the legislation employs and more importantly, the consequences it would have for the students and parents in communities who adopt its provisions.
NEA-NH has long opposed the concepts of budget caps because they are undemocratic, and this law would essentially allow a minority of a community’s voters, to dictate decisions for everyone. Even if 59.9% of a community believes in needed investments for our students that may exceed the cap in the bill, those investments will fail. Having such a high threshold for an annual vote to help ensure student success is a recipe for failure. Rather than backing into a cap as this is constructed, a school community should first look at what they need to fund to meet the student needs. When we decide how much we need to budget for providing for local public safety, we do not put a per resident cap on it, we figure out how much it will cost to deliver these services to the entire community.
In addition to the undemocratic nature of this budget cap bill is the trap this legislation puts on a community that adopts the per pupil methodology. This provision is completely arbitrary, leaving a petitioner the ability to simply pick a dollar amount to be decided upon that holds no basis for implementation as we have seen with what happened in Croydon last month. At a low attended annual meeting, a per pupil dollar methodology was adopted without a plan as to how the resulting 53% budget cut could serve the educational needs of the students. What makes HB 1393 so dangerous is that it would essentially lock a community into such an illogical formula in perpetuity because of the 3/5ths supermajority requirement for overriding or rescinding the cap. Particularly if that initial per pupil dollar amount is not sufficient, the students and parents in that community could be trapped into a figure for years to come because one low turnout annual meeting adopted an inadequate per pupil starting amount. Additionally, if a school’s enrollment declines slightly, it does not translate into a one-for-one reduction in costs. Since HB 1393 bases the cap on the previous year’s average daily membership, a reduction in students census from the previous year would have an outsized impact on what would be formulated for a budget the following year, leading to unnecessary and possibly steep cuts.
Finally, and most importantly is the effect this bill could have on the people who matter most in this equation, the students, and their families. As with our other essential services such as police and fire, we look to our schools and our educators to meet the needs of our communities regardless of what is thrown at our society. Over the course of the last 2 years that has principally been the pandemic and all its effects that will be living with us for a long time. Before that, issues that our school communities still face and were exacerbated by the pandemic were an opioid and mental health crisis, and growing child hunger and poverty. At every turn, we look to our public schools to help meet the challenges these crises impose on our students and their families. HB 1393 is the kind of bill that would dramatically hinder our ability to address the challenges we face by tying one hand behind our backs and endangering the well-being of our students.
Thank you for your time in reviewing our testimony and given all our concerns we hope that you find HB 1393 Inexpedient-to-Legislate.
NEA-New Hampshire President