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Agreement reached on education-funding amendment

CONCORD - Lawmakers and Gov. John Lynch have reached agreement on a proposed constitutional amendment on education and its funding.

Lawmakers said the agreement will maintain the 'New Hampshire advantage' and overturn the Claremont II and Londonderry court decisions.

But opponents warn there is no guarantee the state will maintain its current level of support for education, and property taxpayers can expect their bills to go up in the future.

Lawmakers and the governor have worked for the past two years to reach agreement on an amendment that will allow the state to better target aid to the neediest communities while reducing state money to property-wealthy communities.

The wording of the amendment is 'In fulfillment of the provisions with respect to education set forth in Part II, Article 83, the Legislature shall have the responsibility to maintain a system of public elementary and secondary education and to mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity. In furtherance thereof, the Legislature shall have the full power and authority to make reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education and standards of accountability and to determine the amount of, and the methods of raising and distributing, state funding for public education.'

Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett, called the amendment 'a work of art.'

House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, said the language is 'straightforward and unambiguous,' and he said it would free lawmakers from having to spread money across the state in an irrational manner.

But Mark Joyce, executive director of the N.H. School Administrators Association, said the proposed amendment 'takes away the basic rights of children.'

The House approved a proposed constitutional amendment on education last year for the first time.

With large Republican majorities in both the House and Senate and the support of Lynch, the current session is viewed as the best opportunity to put an amendment before voters.

Both the House and Senate need to approve the amendment by three-fifths majorities. The House vote is expected to be close.

If the amendment is approved by the House and Senate, voters need to approve the amendment by two-thirds majority in order to change the constitution.

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