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State Asks Court to Freeze Its Sweeping Education Funding Ruling Pending Appeals

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office is asking a court to freeze its ruling that the state’s school funding model is unconstitutional, arguing the decision would prevent the state from distributing any adequacy aid to schools next year if it isn’t paused. 

In a decision last month, Rockingham County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff found that the state’s $4,100 base adequacy number – the minimum amount per pupil given to schools every year – is too low for schools to provide an adequate education without needing to rely on local property taxes.

Instead, Ruoff held the state should provide at least $7,356.01 per student in base adequacy per year, and said even that amount should be considered a bare minimum. 

On Thursday, the state argued that Ruoff should stay that decision until a final decision on the merits has been made and until the Legislature has had a full session to make any necessary changes to the funding formula.

If the decision is not paused, the state’s Department of Education is unable to distribute any aid to schools at all, the state argued. 

“Adequacy grants for schools will not resume until the General Court fixes the statute,” the office wrote in its filing, referring to the Legislature. “The General Court may not act to fix the statute while this case is pending reconsideration and appeal, and may await further guidance from the New Hampshire Supreme Court before taking remedial action.”

It added: “Accordingly, a stay of this court’s declaratory judgment is necessary to prevent irreparable harm to New Hampshire’s school funding system and to permit the Executive Branch to continue funding schools until this matter is finally resolved on the merits, and the General Court has sufficient time to fix any constitutional infirmities that may exist after appeal.”

The state also argued that Ruoff’s earlier order violates the separation of powers doctrine by dictating to the Legislature where to set the adequacy formula. 

In a separate motion Thursday, the state asked for a reconsideration of the decision by Ruoff – a first step before a likely appeal to the Supreme Court. 

The state has not yet responded to a different ruling last month by Ruoff that found the statewide education property tax to be unconstitutional because it allows wealthier cities and towns to retain any excess collections not needed for their schools. That ruling requires the state to stop allowing cities and towns to retain that money, which would have a major impact on tax setting by the Department of Revenue Administration this year.

Ruoff gave the state 30 days to file motions of reconsideration or motions to stay for that decision.

Source : New Hampshire Bulletin