AS MEMBERS OF the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, we are tasked with approving the acceptance and expense of certain funds, including the $46 million federal grant for education our Democratic colleagues tabled recently.

It is unfortunate this short-sighted action was taken, putting $46 million in jeopardy that would have helped at-risk youth across the state.

New Hampshire has some of the best public schools in the nation and that includes our 28 public charter schools, which allow Granite State children to attend tuition free. Children have the opportunity to learn outside a traditional classroom setting and even focus on specific curricula of interest, including science, mathematics or the arts.

Commissioner Frank Edelblut and his staff at the Department of Education did their due diligence by applying for this grant and satisfactorily answering all the questions of the Fiscal Committee. The Legislature should have appreciated the commissioner securing the largest grant in the country through the Federal Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities.

Instead, Commissioner Edelblut was skewered with questions and pointed comments about how innovative learning is undermining the current education system.

Our Democratic colleagues seem to believe that public charter schools compete with and are a threat to traditional public schools. This could not be further from the truth. Public charter schools are complementary to our traditional schools and help make our education system one of the best in the country.

Despite the fact that charter schools in New Hampshire are public schools, Concord Democrats continued their assault on expanded educational opportunity beyond the status quo. Our charter schools do not discriminate for any reason, they support children with disabilities and must adhere to the same standards as every other public school. The only major difference being charter schools provide alternative learning models for children that the traditional model does not provide.

Charter schools in New Hampshire do a great job educating our children and preparing them to be a part of the workforce the state desperately needs. The students who graduate from charter schools consistently outperform those from traditional public schools in the state while receiving less taxpayer funding.

Tabling the awarded grant will have lasting negative consequences on vulnerable Granite State children the most. The grant is intended to be targeted towards students from low-income families, who may be educationally disadvantaged and are at risk of dropping out of school. These children are now at risk of losing new opportunities that could change their lives for the better, and it would have not cost New Hampshire taxpayers a dime.

School funding has been a hot topic in New Hampshire for the past several decades, which is why we supported, and Governor Sununu signed, the last budget increasing school funding by $129 million over the next biennium. It is not easy to increase education funding by $129 million, but we had the opportunity to raise it by $175 million between the last budget and this new grant.

Unfortunately, Democrats on the Fiscal Committee made it clear they do not want federal money for education, at least not education targeted towards at-risk youth. They will put it on the backs of hard-working New Hampshire taxpayers instead.

As senators and representatives, we should be in Concord working for all the people of New Hampshire. Declining $46 million from the federal government that should have been used to educate at-risk youth is irresponsible and damaging to our education system. We are better than that and this item should be taken off the table and accepted at the next Fiscal Committee meeting.

It is a sad day for New Hampshire when legislators vote to deny our children the opportunity to receive an education that could have forever put them on a pathway to success and that is what happened in Concord.

Sen. James Gray, a Republican, represents District 6, including the communities of Alton, Barnstead, Farmington, Gilmanton, New Durham and Rochester. Rep. Lynne Ober, a Republican of Hudson, represents Hillsborough District 37 in the New Hampshire House. Rep. Kenneth Weyler, a Republican of Kingston, represents Rockingham District 13 in the New Hampshire House.