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Leaders trade barbs over education-funding amendment

CONCORD &#-; The rhetoric is heating up over a constitutional amendment that would change how the state funds public schools.

In a letter to the governor Monday, House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, said &#';negative comments about members of my caucus have been your only contribution&#'; to the process of reaching a compromise between Senate and House versions of CACR 12.

Bettencourt&#';s letter was prompted by comments Democratic Gov. John Lynch made to the Portsmouth Rotary Club.

&#';There are members of the House who believe the state shouldn&#';t have any responsibility for public education. That&#';s absurd,&#'; Lynch said, according to an April 13 article in the Portsmouth Herald.

A joint House-Senate committee of conference is tasked with reconciling the amendments. It could hold its first meeting as soon as next week.

The Senate-passed amendment, backed by Lynch, states that the Legislature has the authority to define reasonable standards for education and that it has a responsibility to provide a public education.

The &#';responsibility&#'; language has been the main sticking point for House leaders, who say it will continue to give the courts too much say over education funding. All parties agree that an amendment is necessary to allow the state to more directly target funding to needier school districts without the constraints imposed by the state Supreme Court&#';s Claremont decisions.

Bettencourt insisted that &#';there is room for compromise&#'; on the issue of the responsibility language.

&#';What is a concern is its placement, and the effect its placement will have on the overall goal we are trying to achieve,&#'; he said, adding, &#';There are other important aspects of the amendment that require clarification, such as its effect on charter schools, school choice, and homeschooling.&#';

To be placed on the general election ballot, a proposed constitutional amendment needs a three-fifths majority of the House and the Senate. Two-thirds of general election voters would need to approve the change.

A spokesman for the governor did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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