Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reflections on Education Legislation

By Judith Reever

When Governor John Lynch signed Senate Bill 180 into law on July 14, it marked the extraordinary completion of an almost 20-year struggle to meet the Supreme Court’s ruling that the State of New Hampshire provide an adequate education for all students.

Senate Bill 180 was the last piece required to meet the state’s obligation to the funding of education. The Court ruled that the legislature define an adequate education, cost it, fund it and put in place measures to ensure we are providing the opportunity for an adequate education.

As I watched Gov. Lynch sign this final piece of legislation, I found myself reflecting on the 21 years I spent on the Laconia School Board and the frustration I felt with the lack of state financial support for education. Even when the legislature passed the Augenblick Formula in the 1980s, the state never fully funded it. Beginning in 1986, I served 11 years on the New Hampshire School Board Associations’ board of directors. School funding was always a part of our yearly resolutions.

In 1997, I left the school board but continued to watch, with incredible interest, the struggle to move the legislature to adopt a funding formula that was fair and constitutional. In 2001, I was appointed to the State Board of Education and then served as chair. It gave me another perspective on how the state financed education.
I left the State Board in 2004, 13 years after the Claremont I decision. I had given up hope. It seemed the state was trying to find a way around the actual funding of adequacy.

In 2006, I was elected as a state representative. The most frequently asked question of me was, “Are you going to solve the education funding mess?” My answer was, “I’d like to be a part of the discussion.”

I was assigned to the Education Committee, where I became a member of the education subcommittee working to define adequacy.

The final definition, which included kindergarten, passed both the House and the Senate and step one of the process was behind us.

When I was asked to serve on the Costing Committee, step two, I was thrilled. I said to my husband, “How cool is this!” When this bill passed, we were half way there.
In the summer and fall of ’08, I served on the Funding Committee and lastly the Accountability Committee. Both of those bills passed in this session.

I am honored to have been at each of those tables and to have been part of the discussion. I would like to list all of the truly amazing legislators involved but I fear missing someone. They know education; they care deeply, work hard and research each piece of legislation that comes before us. I am awed by their dedication.

I am very proud that this work was completed on our watch and that education is at last, fully funded in this budget!

(Judith Reever represents Belknap County District 4 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. She serves as Vice Chair of the House Education Committee.)