A September 8, 2006, ruling by the New Hampshire Supreme Court that the Granite State’s current education financing system is unconstitutional was the latest in a long string of court decisions, legislative responses, and subsequent court opinions that have made school funding one of the state’s most contentious issues.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court gave New Hampshire lawmakers until July 2007 to define a constitutionally adequate education, implying that legislative failure could lead to a court-mandated system. “Since the inception of the education cases in 1993, we have consistently deferred to the legislature’s prerogative to define a constitutionally adequate education,” said the Court’s unanimous opinion. “Deference, however, has its limits. We agree with [the] concern that this court or any court not take over the legislature’s role in shaping educational and fiscal policy. For almost thirteen years we have refrained from doing so and continue to refrain today. However, the judiciary has a responsibility to ensure that constitutional rights not be hollowed out and, in the absence of action by other branches, a judicial remedy is not only appropriate but essential.”
This report summarizes how the issue of defining and funding an adequate public education reached this point in New Hampshire. It describes key legal findings and other background behind the string of court decisions defining a constitutional educational system. It examines major education funding bills proposed since the 1997 landmark Claremont ruling, assessing whether they would likely meet the state’s constitutional requirements.
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