Warren's ed plan rewards states that devote more to poorer communities

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Monday presented her education plan, which would quadruple federal grants under the Title I program. New Hampshire wouldn’t receive any of that benefit unless it changes its way of financing state aid to public schools. Other parts of Warren’s plan would give school districts more money for special needs costs and school building upgrades.

Democratic presidential frontrunner Elizabeth Warren offered a plan Monday to nearly quadruple federal education grants.

But New Hampshire’s reliance on local property taxes means it would not get any of a central part of it unless policy makers were to come up with new ways to deliver more aid to low-income students.

Some features of the Massachusetts senator’s plan would benefit New Hampshire.

Warren committed to having the federal government for the first time meet its mandate of 40% support for special needs spending. Presently the federal government covers about 15% of costs.

She says she would also set aside $50 billion in upgrades to school infrastructure, which could help in New Hampshire where there has been a moratorium on state school building aid since 2010.

Her plan offers another $100 billion over 10 years in "excellence grants" available to any school to support such things as labs, after school arts and school-based student mentoring programs.

But the cornerstone of Warren’s plan, to quadruple spending over the next decade for low-income students under the Title I program, would be off limits to New Hampshire unless it develops a different formula for school finance.

“I’ve long been concerned about the way that school systems rely heavily on local property taxes, shortchanging students in low-income areas and condemning communities caught in a spiral of decreasing property values and declining schools,” said Warren, who was a school teacher and Harvard law school professor before her election to the U.S. Senate.

Of the 50 states, New Hampshire is the most reliant on property taxes.

Warren’s plan would provide this new Title I money only to states that chipped in more spending and adopted “more progressive funding formulas.”

All states including New Hampshire would continue to receive the Title I money they get now.

She cited a 2018 study from the Education Law Center of the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers that praised 11 states, including Massachusetts, for adopting these formulas that delivered much more education grant money to high-poverty school districts.

New Hampshire was ranked in the bottom 15 states and got a “D” grade in that report.

“On the state side, even when states provide substantial supplemental funding for high-need communities, reliance on local property tax revenue means wealthier communities are often still able to spend more money on their public schools than poorer communities,” Warren says in her plan.

State and local governments provide 90% of grants for school districts; Title I spending is the lion’s share of the federal government’s 10% contribution.

The increase in Title I funding would be financed by Warren’s proposed 2% wealth tax on household assets beyond $50 million, she says. The same wealth tax would also cover an increase in teacher pay.

Warren’s plan calls for the elimination of the federal grant program to expand charter schools.

This past August, New Hampshire received a record five-year, $46 million federal grant to expand charter schools.

Only three states got grants in 2019 and New Hampshire’s total award was nearly twice the next-largest grant, $25 million to the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools. A similar association in the state of Washington was the other recipient.

“The Federal Charter School Program (CSP), a series of federal grants established to promote new charter schools, has been an abject failure,” Warren writes in her plan. “A recent report showed that the federal government has wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never even opened, or opened and then closed because of mismanagement and other reasons.”

The recently signed, two-year state budget compromise provides the most significant increase in state education aid grants over the past two decades.

But much of it, $68 million, is one-time money from budget surplus and some conservative advocates are already warning local officials not to take those big checks from Gov. Chris Sununu and spend it all in one place.

“This reality should be a giant red flag to every municipality and school district across New Hampshire,” wrote Greg Moore, director of the state chapter of the conservative Americans for Prosperity group in a commentary this week.

“Using one-time revenue to pay for current operations, to build out new programming or to add new staff expenses is a recipe for setting up property taxpayers for massive increases when, as expected, this new spigot of funding gets shut off.”

National teacher union leaders praised Warren’s plan as did some local education advocates.

“Elizabeth has stood by teachers for years, and this plan is no different. It shows that she values our work,” said State Rep. Elaine French, D-Littleton, a retired teacher. “We need to support teachers — by paying them fairly for the work they do and ensuring they have access to the resources they need to do their jobs — so that our students can have the best education possible.”

Jill Brewer, a school counselor from Franconia, said Warren’s plan in many ways would make schools a healthier environment to learn.

“Kids can’t learn in buildings that are falling down, making them sick, or that don’t have access to the internet,” Brewer said. “Elizabeth will make sure that schools in rural communities have access to broadband, establish a lead abatement grant program for schools, and make sure that all communities have access to the funding they need to make sure our schools are safe spaces to learn.”

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