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January 16. 2013 10:54PM

State Board of Education panel reaffirms no new charter school dollars available

CONCORD - The chairman of the state Board of Education on Wednesday reaffirmed the board's ban on approving any new charter schools in New Hampshire until the Legislature provides additional funding.

Charter school advocates from throughout the state were expected to show up en masse at the board's monthly meeting to press for action on at least four schools that are ready for approval, but the early morning snowfall put an end to those plans.

"I called it off," said Matt Southerton, director of the New Hampshire Center for Innovative Schools. "I didn't want to be responsible for anyone ending up in a car accident."

Board Chairman Tom Raffio told the handful of charter school proponents who did show up that, "Conceptually, the state Board of Education is in favor of charter schools. There are 17 in operation and we understand their value."

Charter schools that operate outside the jurisdiction of local school districts are eligible for state adequacy grants of $3,450 per pupil, plus another $2,000 in what is called disparity aid, "because they have no local tax base to rely on," said Southerton.

The Department of Education request in the most recent budget cycle allowed for enough money to fund the students enrolled or anticipated to enroll in the existing 17 charter schools, but made no provision for growth.

"The $1.8 million is what we calculate it would cost the state in additional funds to open up the four charter schools that have been waiting the longest and are farthest along in the process," Southerton said.

Those four are the Gate City Charter School for the Arts in Nashua; a proposed High School for the Arts in the Seacoast area; the Mountain Village Charter School in the Concord area; and the Innovative Futures Charter School in the Rochester area.

A $16.8 million fund for the existing schools, which currently serve about 3,000 students statewide, is not at issue, said Raffio, but new schools in the pipeline would increase the state's obligation by $1.8 million in the 2013-2014 school year and by $4 million in the year after.

"We believe charter schools have a role," said Raffio, "but at this point there is a question of where the $1.8 million is coming from. We will entertain applications as soon as the $1.8 million is approved."

When a student leaves a public school for a charter school, the public school continues to receive adequacy grants for that student for at least a year, while the charter school the student attends receives the funding as well, thus complicating the budget scenarios.

Southerton believes the Board of Education could have pursued several fiscal or legislative remedies, and could have planned better with the Department of Education for growth, but has a built-in bias against charter schools.

"There are two teachers unions with lobbyists at the Statehouse," he said, "and one for the state School Administrators Association, and one for the state School Boards Association. Charter schools have zero lobbyists."


dsolomon@unionleader.com


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