NH gets federal grant to open 27 new charter schools & rebuild authorization process

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The New Hampshire Department of Education was awarded $46 million from the US Department of Education to expand the number of charter schools in the state and to rebuild the way the state approves charter school applications and renewals. 

Under the grant, the Department plans to

  • Open 20 new charter schools, replicate 7 charter schools, and expand 5 charter schools in a five-year period, targeted for at-risk, economically disadvantaged students in rural and urban settings; 
  • Work with an outside consultant, the State Board of Education, and lawmakers to rebuild the process that the state uses to approve charter schools; and,
  • Identify and disseminate “best practices” that other charter schools, and neighborhood schools, can use to “increase quality educational options.”

In New Hampshire, charter schools are public schools. They receive state funding, their students take the same statewide assessments as neighborhood schools, and they have to follow many of the same anti-discrimination laws. However, they are exempt from other laws and rules that apply to neighborhood schools, including teacher certification requirements. 

Expanding Charter School Options

In 2018-2019, New Hampshire had 28 charter schools operating across the state, serving roughly 4,800 students (including the Virtual Learning Academy). The Department’s goal is to open 4 new charter schools, open one replicate charter school, and expand one existing charter school in 2019-2020. 

Each year between 2020 and 2024, the state plans on opening between 2 and 5 new charter schools, plans to replicate one to two existing charter schools, and plans to expand one existing charter school.

There is no requirement in the grant for the number of students that each new or replicated charter school will serve, but the “model” charter schools that the Department identified to replicate, enroll an average of 262 students. These charter schools enrolled an average of 68 students during their first year of operation. 

New Hampshire’s student population has been decreasing by about 1% each year over the past 5 years. Since 2006, three charter schools closed because of declining enrollment, and two closed because they were financially unstable. 

The Department identified seven existing charter schools as candidates for potential replication and/or expansion: Academy for Science and Design; MicroSociety Academy; Mills Falls; Polaris; The Birches Academy of Academics and Art; Virtual Learning Academy; and Seacoast Charter Schools. 

Subgrants for Startup Costs

According to the grant application, the federal funds will be used for planning, program design and initial implementation. Resources will also be allocated to approved charter schools for curriculum development, professional development, educational materials, and purchasing supplies. 

It is unclear if the federal funds will be used for operational expenses, or whether the tuition costs will have to be paid by the state. State-authorized charter schools receive an additional $3,411 per student above what the state pays for students in neighborhood schools, and the grant application does not specify whether the federal funds will offset those costs to the state. 

New Hampshire received a similar, $10.8 million federal grant in 2010 to increase the number of charter schools statewide and disseminate best practices. As a result, the state opened 20 new charter schools, six of which were opened in the city of Manchester. 

The average grant award for that cycle ranged from $450,000 to $600,000 for up to three years. Grantees could not use that money to pay staff once the school had opened, but could pay for materials, furniture, and professional development, among other startup costs. 

The last of the funds were used to open three charter schools in 2018. 

The Authorization Process

New Hampshire’s charter schools operate differently than in many other parts of the country. An independent group of parents or teachers, or nonprofit organization, can open a charter school with authorization from either the local school district or the NH State Board of Education. A school district can also convert its own school into a charter school.

For-profit companies are not eligible to open charter schools in the state. There currently are no networks of charter schools that operate in New Hampshire, unlike other states.  

The grant application notes that the Department of Education will work with the State Board of Education, lawmakers, and an outside consultant to strengthen and rebuild the authorization process. The Department noted that the new authorization process will have strong oversight and will reduce barriers for the state’s charter schools. 

The state-level authorization process includes a legal review to ensure compliance with state laws and rules, a peer review to determine the quality of the charter school, a meeting with the Commissioner of Education, and an evaluation by the State Board of Education.

The local authorization process includes a State Board of Education review, but it must also be approved in a town vote via warrant article. 

There is no detail regarding proposed changes to the authorization process. 

Read more about charter schools in New Hampshire with Reaching Higher NH’s policy brief, where we discuss the current authorization process, funding, student selection, and critical questions for consideration.