CLAREMONT — Gov. Chris Sununu presented a big check for $6.2 million to the City of Claremont yesterday afternoon, to celebrate the budget compromise between the governor and state legislature, which restores stabilization grant aid to the school district and includes over $6 million and combined additional school aid and city project funds.
“This is a New Hampshire win,” Sununu told city and Claremont school officials during a presentation ceremony at Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center.
The budget increase to local schools was a pivotal part of a budget agreement reached on September 24, between Sununu and the Democratic majority in the state House and Senate, ending a three-month stalemate over the 2020-2021 state budget.
Sununu said that the education funding in the new budget includes three major changes: a new revenue sharing formula, which increases state aid to local districts by $60 million; a restoration of state funding for school building projects and a significant funding increase to base education. This agreement includes restoring stabilization grant funds to districts with higher levels of need, increasing the state’s contribution to special education costs and fully funding kindergarten.
“We did this without a tax increase and created a plan to sustain this funding three to five years ahead,” Sununu said.
Sununu credited local communities for “knocking on [state officials’] doors to tell them what the needs are. He said that the budget impasse allowed him and other state leaders to review priorities.
Frank Sprague, Claremont school board chair, recognized communities like Berlin, Monondack and Pittsfield, who came together to bring the problem of inadequate state funding to the attention of the General Court.
“Without all these people who advocated for this, it would have never happened,” Sprague said.
Sprague expressed hope in the state’s plan to study funding equality at a committee-level, saying that the real problem in New Hampshire is that property-poor districts cannot compete with property-rich ones to recruit and maintain teachers. In one case, a school administrator in Berlin told Sprague that his schools were struggling to purchase basic supplies like paper and pencils.
Outside the tech center, a handful of citizens held signs in dissent to Sununu’s visit.
Two participants, Debra Jakubowski and Louise Spencer, said they were with the Kent State Coalition, a Concord-based grassroots organization committed to upholding progressive principles.
Spencer said their demonstration aimed to present “the whole story” behind the education funding, which really belonged to the Democratic legislators, not the governor.
“We want to give credit where credit is due,” Spencer said. “The true champions are the Democrats who fought to create this budget and stop the stabilization phaseout, not the one who drops off the check.”
Asked about his own proposed budget — which did not include a restoration of stabilization aid — Sununu pointed to a difference in approach. Sununu said that his budget recommended a one-time increase in base education funding, and fully restoring the state’s contribution amounts to special education, transportation and building aid.
A spokesperson for Sununu said that the governor initially wanted to include a restoration of stabilization aid in his budget. However, the governor has to propose his budget months before receiving a clear picture of the tax revenues entering the next fiscal year.