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N.H. state education board holds firm on charter-school moratorium

The State Board of Education held firm yesterday on its four-month-old moratorium on new public charter schools, with Chairman Tom Raffio saying the board won’t approve any more schools until the Legislature provides more money to help fund them.

“I know I speak on behalf of the entire board that on a conceptual basis, we are in favor of charter schools,” Raffio said at the board’s first meeting of 2013. “The issue of funding, though, the new charter schools, the yet-to-be-authorized charter schools – that has not changed.”

That means the moratorium could last until the end of June, when a new two-year state budget is to be finalized. But charter school advocates, who have been critical of the moratorium, say officials should move quickly to untangle the mess.

“It’s in their interest to fix this problem. . . . The state looks amateurish and backwards because it can’t get this money out to people,” said Matt Southerton, director of the New Hampshire Center for Innovative Schools, a nonprofit that helps set up charter schools.

On Sept. 19, the board voted not to approve any new charter schools because, it said, there wasn’t enough money in the budget to cover per-pupil adequacy payments for them. In fact, the board said, the Department of Education was short on money for the 18 public charter schools that had already been approved.

In December, the Executive Council approved spending an extra $4.5 million to cover payments for the existing schools through the end of the fiscal year. The appropriation had been approved by the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee a month earlier.

But Raffio said yesterday that the board won’t okay any more schools until it knows the state has enough money to support them – repeating what he’s said in past months in response to criticism from charter school organizers, lawmakers and others.

“The new state Legislature has to find the funding and prove to us that the funding for the potential yet-to-be-authorized schools, that that funding is there,” Raffio said.

Southerton, though, said the board members shouldn’t be inserting themselves into the legislative budget process as they review proposals for new charter schools.

“They should base their decision on the merits of the application,” he said.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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