Hassan’s past support for charter school funds doesn’t sway Democrat-led committee 

  • Commissioner of the Department of EducationFrank Edelblut talks with student at the Capital City Charter School in the Steepgate Mall on Thursday, November 7, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

Published: 1/10/2020 4:27:51 PM

A month after a committee led by Democrats rejected the first wave of a $46 million federal grant to expand the state’s charter schools, state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut was back before lawmakers Friday asking them to reconsider.

The passage of a few weeks and renewed pitch yielded no new results for Edelblut: the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted 7-3, the same as it did a month ago, to reject the funds.

This time, to bolster his argument that a potential doubling of the number of charter schools from 28 to 55 was a good thing for New Hampshire, Edelblut used the words of Maggie Hassan, who as governor supported a similar grant application in 2016 when she was governor.

Hassan, now a U.S. senator, supported the creation of 15 new charter schools in the state and appealed to the U.S. Department of Education for funding to establish new charter schools in and around Manchester, the state’s largest city.

“An objective of this grant is to use best practices from positive outcomes at our charter schools to inform programs at other public schools, which in turn benefits our entire public education system,” Hassan wrote on June 1, 2016.

The state was unsuccessful in obtaining that grant, so state education officials broadened the request and reapplied. The $46 million award – to be disbursed over five years allowing for the creation of 27 additional charter schools across the state – was the result of the expanded grant application.

Hassan’s letter failed to sway any Democrats.

“Despite some of the rhetoric out there by the administration, supporting existing charter school students and schools has been a bipartisan priority of this Legislature,” Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes of Concord said in a statement after he voted a second time to reject the funds. “This grant doesn’t do that and what’s more, it’s unprecedented for a state agency to submit the exact same request right after it’s been rejected.”

Charter schools are public schools, operating tuition-free, but they’re allowed to experiment with structure and academic approaches and are exempt from many of the requirements of traditional public schools in the state. Unlike other public schools, charter schools can accept students from any ZIP code; many institute wait lists and lotteries to determine who gets to attend.

Champions of the schools, generally Republicans, say they offer more options for families looking for a different educational approach or fit for their children – without the tuition hurdles of private and religious schools.

They accused Democrats of playing politics at the expense of New Hampshire school children.

Senate Republican Leader Chuck Morse said denying the funding was a “grave disservice” to the state’s education system.

“There have been 20 superintendents across the state expressing interest in using these funds to develop innovative programs in their districts, providing additional opportunities for students and relief for local taxpayers,” Morse said. “My Democratic colleagues can talk all they want about the need for more education funding, but today their words did not align with their actions.”

“There are many communities in this state where there is only one option for education,” House Republican Leader Dick Hinch said. “For the students who may not be thriving in that environment, charter schools provide another option for educational success. Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing that Democrats are playing politics with thousands of children’s education opportunities, and leaving children behind, rather than help all children in our state succeed.”

Democrats have maintained they rejected the money due to a sense of fiscal responsibility.

“There are simply too many unanswered questions about the current landscape of charter schools in New Hampshire, and our state’s capacity to support doubling the number of those schools,” Feltes wrote in an op-ed with Sen. David Watters of Dover, and Reps. Mel Myler and Dave Luneau of Hopkinton, and Mary Heath of Manchester.

“It would be fiscally irresponsible for the fiscal committee to move forward with this grant, which would double charter schools outside of the legislative process, jeopardize the financial health of New Hampshire’s current traditional and charter public schools, and make an end-run around the state budget that commits the state of New Hampshire to millions of dollars in unbudgeted education aid years into the future,” they said.

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