The Lynch plan falls far short of the hype
Amidst great bipartisan fanfare, the Lynch education funding plan was rolled out last month. Among the accolades that have been showered upon it are that it is a “new paradigm,” that it is a “permanent solution” to the Claremont case, that the amount of state aid will be “predictable and sustainable” and that it “provides for accountability.” Which leads me to ask, has anyone making these claims actually taken the time to read the plan? The plan is being touted as a “new paradigm” because it is assumed that it is not based on per-pupil spending. Actually, as Charlie Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, has pointed out, the plan is based on target spending of roughly $8,290 per pupil. The way that funding is distributed is that each town is assigned a “measure of risk” by the plan, which is simply the percentage of the $8,290 per pupil cost that is to be funded by the state. For example, Allenstown’s measure of risk is .5733, and the state pays 57.33 percent, or about $4,753 per pupil in that town. Because the state’s percentage of the $8,290 per-pupil cost varies among school districts, the Lynch plan is not a “permanent solution” to Claremont. Like it or not, one of the core principles of Claremont is that state taxes must pay for the entire cost of an adequate education everywhere. The architects of the Lynch plan may believe that they have gotten around this difficulty by not expressly defining the cost of adequacy as $8,290 per student. But the lack of any state aid to so-called rich towns means that the local property tax must be paying for the cost of an adequate education in those towns, which the Supreme Court has said is unconstitutional. Worse, the Supreme Court may decide to infer that the cost of an adequate education is the plan’s target spending of $8,290 per pupil. The court might then rule that it is unconstitutional to use the local property tax to pay for public education unless the state imposes sufficient state taxes to pay for the entire cost of adequacy, which would be approximately $1.7 billion. And that would require an income tax. Because it doesn’t comply with Claremont, the Lynch plan could be challenged and struck down in court at any time. Even disregarding this problem, the plan is still less predictable and sustainable than the current funding law because it allows the state’s responsibility to be changed with a simple stroke of a pen, rather than any material rewrite of the law. The plan calculates the state’s responsibility by subtracting a town’s “Education Equity Index” from the “Education Equity Index Goal.” For example, subtracting Allenstown’s EEI of .6267 from the EEI goal of 1.2 generates the state’s 57.33 percent responsibility in that town. But the EEI goal can be set at any number, which makes it easy to reduce - or increase — state funding. The way that the Lynch plan “provides for accountability” is to make 30 percent of a town’s EEI a factor of student performance. But the better a school district’s performance compared to state averages, the less state aid it receives. In other words, schools that get good results are punished, while schools that get bad results are rewarded. This is just the opposite of accountability. In this respect, the Lynch plan does reflect one of the core values of Claremont. Although there are a variety of reasons besides money some schools outperform other schools - for example, the quality of the teachers, whether there is a classroom environment conducive to learning and whether there is social promotion — the Lynch plan assumes that the quality of education can be improved simply by spending more. Ed Mosca is a Manchester attorney and former chairman of that city’s Republican Party.