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Proposal boosts state aid to charter schools

Charter school supporters urged lawmakers yesterday to increase state aid to these nontraditional schools.

State Rep. Ken Weyler, a Kingston Republican, told the House Education Committee the current state aid level isn’t fair when the amount taxpayers spend on public schools is taken into account.

Weyler is the prime sponsor of a bill to set the aid level for charter schools at half the statewide average cost per pupil. Weyler said charter schools now get $5,450 per student. Under his proposal, the schools would get about $1,100 more per pupil based on the statewide average for the last school year.

“Charter schools have been laboratories of innovation in our state,” said Weyler.

New Hampshire has 17 charter schools. They operate under the auspices of the state but are not subject to all state regulations and are allowed more freedom to structure educational programs. The state board of education has a moratorium on approving new charter schools until lawmakers show there is sufficient funding to support them.

Eileen Liponis, executive director of the New Hampshire Public Charter School Association, said New Hampshire lags behind the nation in financial support for charter schools. Public charter schools receive 41 percent of the state average of $13,159 that is spent on public school students, she said. Nationally, 80 percent of the funds follow the child to a charter school, she said.

Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, said he could support the increase if the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School was included. The school’s funding is determined differently than the other charter schools. Joyce said that makes no sense.

Matora Fiorey, director of Surry Village Charter School, testified that a small boost in funding would go a long way toward hiring people to provide additional services at her school. She gave a school nurse and counselor as examples. She said her school has 92 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

But Bill Duncan of Advancing New Hampshire Public Education questioned if simply raising the money spent on charter schools should be the first step lawmakers take. He suggested stepping back and examining the role charter schools play in public education and funding them to fulfill that role.

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