The Concord Monitor is launching its Environmental Reporting Lab, a long-term effort to better inform the community about the New Hampshire environment. To launch phase 1 of this effort, we need your help. The money raised will go toward hiring a full-time environmental reporter.

Please consider donating to this effort.


Charter schools fight back against state moratorium

Last modified: 9/25/2012 12:00:00 AM
Charter school supporters agreed on one thing yesterday: the state Board of Education's moratorium on new charter schools was an 'embarrassing' mistake.

The moratorium has charter schools fighting back, determined to file appeals with the board and bring their concerns to board members and state leaders. Some state legislators, meanwhile, say the decision has shed light on a need to revamp the state's charter school laws.

School supporters met yesterday afternoon at the Network for Education Opportunity in Concord - a nonprofit that helps connect parents with alternative education pathways for students - to discuss the state Board of Education's Sept. 19 decision to enact the moratorium.

Board members cited funding issues in their decision.

There are about 15 charter schools currently in some stage of development in the Granite State, said state Board of Education Chairman Tom Raffio, adding to the nearly 20 already approved.

In the past two years, the board authorized eight new charter schools in the state, increasing the state's education adequacy payments by more than $5 million, he said. And spending in the current fiscal year will exceed the appropriation for charter schools.

'The problem now is that while we're certainly supportive of the concept of the charter schools, we need to make sure that parents and students are protected, and to make sure that schools are sustainable,' he said. 'Right now, the budgets included in the state's education adequacy money can't be counted on to sustain them.'

But at yesterday's meeting in Concord, charter school supporters and legislators in attendance said this rationale does not hold up.

'To make a blanket approval or denial of charter schools is just not logical,' said NEO Executive Director Kate Baker.

Matt Southerton, executive director of the New Hampshire Center for Innovative Schools, said that while spending on charter schools in the current fiscal year may go beyond its appropriation, charter schools approved in the coming months have no bearing on that budget.

The budget that would fund tuition for new charter schools, most of which would not open until the fall of 2014, has not yet been created, he said.

And Southerton said there has been no indication that the Legislature would not support additional funding for the schools in future years.

But Raffio said the board is not convinced the state will have the funding it would need to sustain up to 15 more charter schools in coming years.

The board first discussed the potential funding issues with legislators in January, and again in May and June with legislative leaders and the governor's office, he said. The idea of enacting a moratorium was first discussed at the board's annual retreat in July, which was not open to the public.

Before voting to enact the moratorium last week, Raffio said the board discussed the idea with the state attorney general's office, which confirmed the board's authority to deny all pending charter school applications.

While he said he can understand how charter school founders may have felt blindsided by last week's vote, he said the Legislature should not be surprised by the board's decision.

'Everybody was aware that we were discussing it as a board,' Raffio said.

Legislators at yesterday's meeting, however, said the vote did come as a shock, and they added that the Legislature is supportive of charter schools.

Nashua Rep. Michael Balboni, chairman of the House education committee, said the Legislature has funding it could give to fund new charter schools, and that while it will be a new Legislature funding charter schools in the next state budget cycle, he believes money for the schools is a top priority.

He said he hopes to see the House and Senate come together on this issue and encourage the state board to reverse its decision.

If the board and the Department of Education simply wait for the Legislature to determine the future of charter schools in their budget, stalling the application process, he said, it could put federal grant money at risk.

The state received a nearly $12 million federal grant in 2010 to supply startup funds to charter schools. If the moratorium remains in place, the remaining funds, about $5 million, will likely have to be returned to the federal government, Southerton said.

Even if the money is not required to be returned, he said, school openings will be delayed too long for charter schools to take advantage of the funding.

Legislators at yesterday's meeting said the moratorium also has shed light on a charter school authorization process that may need to be changed.

House Rules Committee Vice Chairwoman Pamela Tucker, a Republican from Greenland, said it is the Legislature's responsibility - not the Department of Education's nor the Board of Education's - to place a moratorium on charter schools.

The board should simply approve or deny schools based on their merit, she said.

Raffio, however, said one criterium for charter school approval that the board examines is its financial needs and sustainability. He said the board did not want to approve new charter schools only to have funding dry up months later, leaving students, parents and school staff in a tough situation.

Charter school supporters still plan to do all they can to persuade the Board of Education to reverse the moratorium, writing letters to let board members, educational leaders and legislators know how the decision could negatively impact their prospective students and their communities.

Schools that are denied charters under the moratorium also could file appeals with the board, Baker said.

Raffio said the board and education leaders in the state are not moving away from the issue either.

He and Deputy Commissioner Paul Leather will meet with House and Senate Finance Committee leaders this morning, to discuss the funding concerns that led to the moratorium.

Raffio said he has been receiving hundreds of emails encouraging the board to reverse its decision, but he said a reversal happening any time soon is unlikely, despite the board's conceptual support of charter schools.

He added that charter schools can offer important alternative learning opportunities to students.

'It really comes down to some kind of demonstration that the money actually exists,' he said. 'As soon as we have some sort of clearance and can be sure that the money would be there, we would definitely looks at applications again.

'But it remains to be seen where that money is coming from.'


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Concord Monitor, recently named the best paper of its size in New England.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy