Not my job to define, cost out an adequate education

Apr. 20—BRENTWOOD — State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut says it’s not his job to define an adequate education and calculate how much it costs.

Edelblut took an hour and a quarter to wrap up his testimony Thursday in the ConVal School District school funding suit, which is being heard in Rockingham County Superior Court.

He returned to the stand two days after Judge David Ruoff said he thought the state Legislature wanted Edelblut to work out the details of an adequate education. Thirty years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled that the New Hampshire Constitution required the state to define and pay for an adequate education.

Edelblut said he would work out the specifics of an adequate education if required to do so by the Legislature, but that hasn’t happened.

“It’s not my responsibility to determine what the required components or costs are,” the Republican appointee said toward the end of his testimony. He added that he believes in different ways to deliver an adequate education.

ConVal and 17 other school districts are calling the state, Gov. Chris Sununu and Edelblut over both the interpretation of an adequate education and how much the state contributes towards it.

They say no school district can provide an adequate education at the current base amount of state aid, $3,787 per student. Most districts say the true cost is closer to $10,000.

Speaking outside the courtroom, ConVal lawyer Michael Tierney suggested that the commissioner had already set parameters for an adequate education.

The state Board of Education passes regulations that set the minimum standards that all schools must follow. The regulations govern curricula, school facilities, lunch programs, class sizes and school calendars.

“These are what a school district has to do,” Tierney said. “To provide a constitutionally adequate education, a school district must follow these rules and statutes.”

He also argued that Edelblut laid out the parameters of an adequate education in 2020 when he issued a press release comparing the outcomes and costs of charter schools and public schools.

An Education Department spokeswoman said Edelblut would not comment on issues raised in court while the trial was in progress.

Much of the testimony dealt with the minutiae of Education Department regulations and whether they align or conflict with statutes that lay out an adequate education in broad terms.

For example, state regulations require six electives for a high school diploma; state law says nothing when it comes to electives as part of an adequate education.

In another testimony, Mark Manganiello, Department of Education school funding administrator, tested that some school districts received only $3,787 per student.

Schools can accept extra payments for students with educational challenges such as low-income families, special education and unfamiliarity with English. They can also receive “stabilization” money for offset reductions in state aid.

“Without running any of the numbers, I’d say it’s very unlikely anyone’s receiving less than ($4,000),” he said.

Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the ConVal lawsuit could go forward and ordered Ruoff to define an adequate education.

ConVal and the other districts say the state either ignores or lowballs several expenses schools face: bus service, teacher-student ratio, teacher benefits, building costs, the superintendent office, school nurses and lunch programs.

Lawyers for the state have said New Hampshire does a good job in education, and the job of determining an adequate education should be left up to the Legislature.

The trial has run nearly two weeks. It breaks next week, which is school vacation week for many schools, and then resumes in early May.

Note: an earlier version of this story had the wrong year of a press release comparing charter and public schools.

[email protected]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *