K-12 public schools in New Hampshire enroll about 200,000 students, with 20% in poverty, 2% learning English, 8% minorities, and annual expenditures of about $2.4 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
In a series of decisions beginning in 1993, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found that the state was not providing the constitutionally required education to its children and not implementing a reasonable and proportionate local property tax. In 2008, the court found that state actions were sufficient to remedy the constitutional deficiency.
Political debate continues on whether to amend the state constitution’s education article.
In 2008, the New Hampshire Supreme Court dismissed Londonderry School District v. State, in which plaintiffs alleged the state had failed to provide a constitutionally adequate education. After the legislature revised the school funding statutes, defined the elements of an "adequate education," and established procedures to determine the costs of an adequate education, the court concluded that the state had satisfied its constitutional duty.
In a series of decisions in Claremont Sch. Dist. v. Governor, courts in New Hampshire found that the state was not providing an adequate education to its children and was not implementing a reasonable and proportionate local property tax. The court held that: education is a fundamental right under the state constitution; and, the State must establish both a level of minimum adequacy and accountability standards.
In Londonderry School District v. State, despite the legislature’s significant revision of the school funding statutes in 2005, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that the state must define the elements of a constitutionally adequate education. After the legislature defined an "adequate education" and established procedures to determine the costs of an adequate education, the court stayed proceedings until 2008.
In 2007, the governor proposed a constitutional amendment that would have limited the authority of the judicial branch in regards to school funding. The state House overwhelmingly rejected the amendment, but subsequent governors have pressed the legislature to pass an amendment for consideration by the voters.
In 2008, after hearing arguments from both sides, the state supreme court held that the legislature had taken sufficient steps to satisfy its constitutional duty and the lawsuit had become moot. Nonetheless, the court left the door open to future lawsuits that could challenge the constitutionality of the state's school funding laws.
"Knowledge and learning, generally diffused through a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; and spreading the opportunities and advantages of education through the various parts of the country, being highly conducive to promote this end; it shall be the duty of the legislators and magistrates, in all future periods of this government, to cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries and public schools..." N.H. Const. Pt. 2, art. 83.
In Claremont I, the New Hampshire Supreme Court considered the meaning of the education article, giving particular weight to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s interpretation of the Massachusetts education article, on which the New Hampshire provision was based. The New Hampshire court wrote:
"The duty of ensuring that the people are educated is placed upon "the legislators and magistrates, in all future periods of this government," and that duty encompasses supporting all public schools: ...the duty to ‘cherish’ public schools [should reasonably be understood] as a duty to ensure that the public schools achieve their object and educate the people…The language commands, in no uncertain terms, that the State provide an education to all its citizens and that it support all public schools." 635 A.2d 1375, 1378 (1993) (internal citations omitted).
The court continued:
"Having identified that a duty exists and having suggested the nature of that duty, we emphasize the corresponding right of the citizens to its enforcement... in New Hampshire a free public education is at the very least an important, substantive right…The right to an adequate education mandated by the constitution is not based on the exclusive needs of a particular individual, but rather is a right held by the public to enforce the State's duty. Any citizen has standing to enforce this right." Id. at 1381.
The court noted that it declined to "define the parameters of the education mandated by the constitution as that task is, in the first instance, for the legislature and the Governor." Id. However, the court nevertheless established: "Given the complexities of our society today, the State's constitutional duty extends beyond mere reading, writing and arithmetic. It also includes broad educational opportunities needed in today's society to prepare citizens for their role as participants and as potential competitors in today's marketplace of ideas." Id.
In Claremont II, the court further established that education is a fundamental right, and that the burden must be shared by all citizens since they all benefit from the "preservation of a free government" that education provides. Further stating that, "it is only just that those who enjoy such government should equally assist in contributing to its preservation.” The court also noted that the framers of the constitution must have had this sharing of responsibility in mind when placing the duty on the state and not the towns. 703 A.2d 1353, 1357 (1997).
The court then defined the right to an adequate education: "A constitutionally adequate public education is not a static concept removed from the demands of an evolving world...A broad exposure to the social, economic, scientific, technological, and political realities of today's society is essential for our students to compete, contribute, and flourish in the twenty-first century." Id.
In Claremont II, the court further clarified this definition of adequacy by looking to a decision from another state, Kentucky, in Rose v. Council for Better Educ. The court stated:
"We look to the seven criteria articulated by the Supreme Court of Kentucky as establishing general, aspirational guidelines for defining educational adequacy. A constitutionally adequate public education should reflect consideration of the following:
- sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;
- sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices;
- sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation;
- sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness;
- sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage;
- sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and
- sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.
…We view these guidelines as benchmarks of a constitutionally adequate public education." (citing 790 S.W.2d 186, 212 (Ky. 1989))
In 2002, accountability measures were added to the state adequacy mandates by the court in Claremont Sch. Dist. v. Governor (Claremont VII):
"Accountability means that the State must provide a definition of a constitutionally adequate education, the definition must have standards, and the standards must be subject to meaningful application so that it is possible to determine whether, in delegating its obligation to provide a constitutionally adequate education, the State has fulfilled its duty. … If the State cannot be held accountable for fulfilling its duty, the duty creates no obligation and is no longer a duty. … We therefore conclude that the State's duty to provide a constitutionally adequate education includes accountability." 794 A.2d 744, 751 (2002) as cited in 703 A.2d 1353 (1997).
New Hampshire has no state-funded pre-K program. The state does provide a small state supplement for Head Start.
New Hampshire’s funding system has the lowest state share of state/local funding, relying more than any other state on local funding. -- National Center for Education Statistics.