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NH business groups tout Senate education plan

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 16. 2012 10:47PM

CONCORD - Business groups supporting the constitutional amendment on education that passed the Senate Thursday said maintaining the state's responsibility for public education is important.

At a press conference Thursday kicking off the effort to convince House members and the public to support the amendment, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said the proposal would 'bring rationality back to the process.'

He was joined by other state senators, business groups and representatives from property wealthy communities to urge passage of the amendment, which gives the state greater flexibility to target education aid to the neediest communities.

Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said the amendment would stabilize the business tax climate and provide the state's students with the educational foundation they need in the 21st century.

While the amendment holds the Legislature responsible for defining public education standards and accountability and mitigating local disparities, the state would not be responsible for providing and paying 100 percent of the cost of an 'adequate education.''

Instead, the Legislature would have the 'full power and authority'' to determine how much state funding would be raised and distributed, in so-called 'targeted aid'' to the neediest communities.

'CACR 12 upholds New Hampshire's responsibilities, but it also provides much-needed flexibility to public policy makers,' said David Juvet, senior vice president of the Business and Industry Association. 'To fund education is a shared responsibility of the federal government, state government and local communities. Responsibility is an important word for us.'

Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, said state responsibility carries a lot of weight for his organization and is an important aspect its support.

'The chamber is very attached to that word to hold the state accountable,' Williams said.

The proposed amendment, which has the backing of Gov. John Lynch, is expected to face an uphill battle in the House, which approved its own language that would essentially make the state Supreme Court's Claremont decisions null and void.

To date, House Speaker William O'Brien has opposed including the word responsibility in the amendment, which is included in the Senate version.

Bradley believes House members can be convinced to support the Senate-passed version when they realize 'our future is at stake.

'If we can't solve the education funding issue, we put at risk the New Hampshire advantage,' Bradley said.

Under the amendment, the state would be allowed to target aid to the neediest communities and do away with the per-student grants in state aid.

Bradley downplayed political ill will between the House and Senate and said the education amendment has to be the top priority.

Williams agreed and said, 'The issue is too large to fall victim to political in-fighting and egos from one branch to the other.'

Besides the BIA, business groups supporting the amendment included the Retail Merchants Association, National Federation of Independent Business of New Hampshire, New Hampshire Auto Dealers Association, New Hampshire Association of Insurance Agents and Ski NH.

Representatives from Hampton, New London, Rye and the Coalition Communities, comprised of property wealthy communities opposed to the statewide property tax, also supported the Senate-passed version.

Pat Remick, coordinator of the Coalition Communities, said since 2005 all money raised from the statewide property tax has remained in the communities where it was collected and it should remain that way. She said the amendment would allow the elimination of the tax ending donor and receiver towns.

'If it goes away, the cost of education does not change,' Remick said.

All at the press conference officials said the current version represents the best opportunity to put the issue before voters. Until last year, a constitutional amendment on education had never passed the House.

'We have never been this close to achieving an amendment to allow for targeted education aid,' said Juvet. 'Our hope is that the House will concur with the Senate's work and that we will finally be able to make our case to voters.'

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