NASHUA — Democrats gathered in the Gate City on Monday, urging legislators to adopt more education funding to help schools throughout the state.
“Because of budget shortages, schools across New Hampshire are struggling to recruit and keep talented teachers — and there are far too many layoffs,” Sen. Cindy Rosenwald said at the We Support Education Rally on Library Hill. “Again, the reality is that schools in New Hampshire are in crisis.”
Gov. Chris Sununu has presented a proposed two-year state budget of $13.1 billion, which includes $63 million in surplus funds for school building aid for select school districts.
“And while the single biggest expense to local property taxpayers is education, we showed in the last budget that creative management from the state can result in cash investments into local projects, providing property tax relief and funding local liabilities that have gone unsupported for too long,” Sununu said during his budget address last month.
Rosenwald agreed that investments are necessary, but maintained that Sununu’s proposed budget takes the state in the wrong direction by essentially flat-funding public education. She said towns are struggling to keep schools open and make payroll — not worrying about renovations and expanded facilities.
“Flat-funding hurts our students, our economy and taxpayers. We need to do better,” Rosenwald said during a news conference Monday outside of Mount Pleasant Elementary School.
However, Sununu has stressed that his budget focuses on investing in the education of New Hampshire’s children in a variety of new ways, including an increase in tuition and transportation aid of $8.6 million, as well as a 20 percent increase in special education funds.
“For nearly 10 years, the state has flat-funded special education in our schools. These reimbursements, which go to local school districts, also help offset local property taxes,” Sununu said earlier. “But today, that changes. We are increasing special education funds nearly 20 percent so that each and every student has access to an education that suits their needs.”
Sen. Melanie Levesque said the governor’s proposed education budget does not do enough. She urged Sununu to fund education appropriately and add money where it is needed the most. Senior citizens and other residents are being taxed out of their homes as Nashua is experiencing large property tax increases because of the recent citywide revaluation process, according to Levesque.
“Every dollar we put into our public schools is an investment in our children’s future. It is the only opportunity for children to thrive, regardless of where they live or how much parents earn,” she said. “When we take dollars away from public school, it hurts our children and shifts more burden to our taxpayers, many who are barely making it.”
Sununu’s education budget also includes a $24 million investment to double the capacity of health care and nursing programs in the state’s university system, and an addition of $32.5 million for a new loan forgiveness program throughout the next two years.
State Rep. Laura Telerski said there still are not enough substitute teachers in city schools, which sometimes results in paraprofessionals being pulled from their regular assignments.
“This is just one small problem that results from year-after-year of underfunding education, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Telerski. “… The children of New Hampshire deserve more. It’s time we stop talking about an education that is just adequate and start talking about an education that is excellent.”