N.H. Senate takes up bill to give charter schools dibs on abandoned public school property

Monitor staff
Thursday, April 12, 2018

In some New Hampshire school districts, unused buildings, once dedicated to classrooms and hallways, languish for years. New legislation in the Senate would mandate that the districts relinquish the buildings – and turn them over to charter schools.

A last-minute amendment to House Bill 1636 would require that all public school facilities disused for two years or longer be made available to chartered public schools. The amendment, co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, would give school districts leeway in how the facilities were passed on – either through a lease or a sale – but would require that the districts give “right of first refusal” to any eligible charter school.

In the case of a sale, charter schools would have six months after making an offer to complete the purchase, the amendment states. In the meantime, school districts would be required to report all unused facilities to the Department of Education, which would keep records.

Supporters said the bill would help support a growing piece of the New Hampshire education landscape.

“The fight is over,” Giuda said. “Charter schools are part of the infrastructure of public school education. Now let’s stop that fight and let’s try and move ahead.”

But one Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jay Kahn of Keene, said the bill amounted to a violation of local control, tying the hands of school districts over properties that might be used otherwise.

“There might be a number of others who have compatible uses that are excluded from that process,” he said, citing preschools, after-school programs and technical colleges as examples.

Giuda, meanwhile, said the bill is meant to level the playing field, arguing that many districts are biased against chartered public schools. “There is unquestionably a bias against charter schools in the traditional public school infrastructure,” Giuda said. “There’s no question about it.”

The bill would prevent the schools from being unfairly shut out, he said.

On Tuesday, members of the House Education Committee voted in favor of the bill along party lines, 3-1. The bill heads next to the Senate floor, where Democrats are expected to rally against it as a caucus.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)