State wins stay of ed funding loss while it appeals to Supreme Court

Mar. 13—CONCORD — The state's highest court delivered a critical stay to block the Legislature from having to dramatically increase state aid to public schools while government lawyers appeal a lower-court ruling on the state's education funding formula.

In a unanimous 4-0 decision, the New Hampshire Supreme Court granted Attorney General John Formella's bid to set aside Rockingham County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff's decision in a key lawsuit while the justices consider the state's appeal.

Had the motion not been granted, state legislators estimate they would have had to increase aid to public schools by $133 million starting April 1.

Lawyers for the state also argued the decision, costing more than $500 million annually, could also put at risk New Hampshire's credit rating.

In its response, lawyers for the ConVal School District and other communities that sued the state maintained there was no need to postpone the judgment since as of last Dec. 10, the state had an estimated budget surplus of $458 million.

State budget officials reported the state's education trust fund was $182 million in the black, and Gov. Chris Sununu in his annual address last month said that surplus would grow to more than $220 million by the middle of 2024, the ConVal lawyers said in their motion opposing a delay.

Thus far in this case, Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald has not taken part in the matter.

MacDonald served as Sununu's attorney general prior to joining the high court.

ConVal and the other districts first brought their case in March 2019 while MacDonald was the state's chief prosecutor.

Ruoff ruled last fall the state failed its constitutional duty to ensure all students had an opportunity to obtain an adequate education.

In that case, Ruoff decided the state's average education aid grants to communities was more than $3,000 short per pupil.

In a related lawsuit, Ruoff also ruled in favor of districts whose lawyers argued that varying property tax rates for property rich versus property poor towns also violated the state Constitution. State lawyers have said they would appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court as well.

klandrigan@unionleader.com