Lawmakers reject grant to double public charter schools

The Legislative Fiscal Committee voted to table or set aside a five-year, $46-million effort to more than double public charter schools. All Democrats on the panel said the plan to spend $10 million in the next two years would come with strings attached and force local and state taxpayers to pick up expenses. Here, fourth-graders from Mill Falls Charter School worked on a project about space.

CONCORD — A grant that would double the number of public charter schools in New Hampshire was shelved along party lines Friday by a legislative budget oversight panel.

Gov. Chris Sununu, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut and public charter school advocates condemned the 7-3 decision of the Legislative Fiscal Committee to table the U.S. Department of Education grant.

House Finance Committee Chairwoman Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, said lawmakers and Sununu recently completed a state budget compromise and this would commit lawmakers and communities to more taxpayer expense.

“The Legislature just negotiated a budget package that allocates the most state funding for education in at least 20 years and work has begun on the commission established in the budget to study long-term solutions for public education funding in New Hampshire,” Wallner said.

“Without further information and a more comprehensive review, it would be fiscally irresponsible to move forward with this grant which represents an end-run around the budget that ties our hands and the hands of future legislatures.”

Senate Finance Chairman Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said the five-year, $46-million should not be accepted until lawmakers fully understand the consequences.

“These grant dollars do not come without strings attached—they require investments from the state not accounted for in the current two-year budget and pose unanticipated costs to municipalities, including transportation costs for in-district busing,” D’Allesandro said. “It is prudent legislators weigh this decision carefully while looking at the full education landscape in New Hampshire and the potential impact doubling charter schools in our state would have on students, school districts, and the charter schools already operating in our state.”

Sununu, a two-term Republican, said the grant would give New Hampshire $10 million over the next two years.

“Democratic leadership should be ashamed of themselves for turning their backs on New Hampshire’s students,” Sununu said in a statement.

“This game-changing grant would have cost New Hampshire taxpayers nothing and would have supported public charter schools across the state. It is clear that Democrats would rather see these innovative, public-school programs fail rather than support our successful system. It is a sad day for New Hampshire when improving educational outcomes becomes a political issue for Democrat-leadership.”

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut’s agency team had requested the grant which gave New Hampshire the most of any state in the latest round; Alabama stood to receive the second most over time, $25 million.

“New Hampshire’s success with public charter schools won us this grant, the largest of its kind in the county. The 2019 assessments showed a higher percentage of public charter school students reaching proficiency in 7 out of 8 categories, including a 13% advantage in 11th Grade Science,” Edelblut said. “This grant would build on that success by giving both public charter and traditional district schools a chance to try new ways to reach students most at risk. We should focus on students, rather than defending the status quo.”

Monday, December 09, 2019