CONCORD, N.H. - House Speaker Terie Norelli, a key player in the school funding debate, announced her support yesterday for a constitutional amendment that would let the state decide which towns needed state aid.
The governor and a bipartisan Senate majority support an amendment to let the state send most or all school aid to its poorest communities, but amendments have failed to pass the Legislature for a decade.
The proposed amendment would allow the targeting of state aid, but would not weaken the state Supreme Court's oversight of school funding. The court has mandated changes to make school aid fairer in a series of decisions beginning in 1991.
The amendment would specifically require the state to define an adequate education, determine its cost, and fund it with state dollars, as the court has repeatedly said the state must do. But it would let the state decide who needs help providing a public education. That could mean not all communities would get state school aid.
The amendment differs from one backed by Governor John Lynch and passed by the Senate in February by preserving oversight for the court. During the 1990s, critics of the court's school funding decisions backed constitutional amendments to eliminate or seriously curtail the court's role.
The court has ruled that the state must send every town a base amount of aid, enough to pay for an adequate education for all children. Lynch and other supporters of amending the constitution say that wealthier towns don't need the state's help and that having to send money to them prevents the state from sending enough aid to poor towns.
Norelli said the new amendment would not stop any individual or community from challenging the constitutionality of the state's definition of adequacy or its aid system.
The Democratic speaker said weakening court oversight would be a deal-breaker for her party.
"Most Democrats in the House would not support that," she said.
She said she does not know whether Republicans would support an amendment that does not weaken court oversight.
"They want targeting; this gives them targeting," she said.
Lynch applauded the House for crafting an amendment that allows targeting, but did not say whether he supports its passage.
"I have to review it in more detail," he said.
Similarly, deputy House Republican leader David Hess said he needs more time to study the proposal.
"We have told the governor, with a properly worded amendment we can deliver 120 votes," he said.
But Hess said the House leaders' proposal may not meet that test. Other proposals also are under consideration by the House, he said.