NH lawmakers table federal charter grant, request more information

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On Friday, November 8, 2019, the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted 7-3 to table the first portion of the $46 million federal grant to double the number of charter schools in New Hampshire. The Committee put a hold on the request in order to get more information on the impact of the grant, and the resulting charter schools, on NH students, schools, and the state as a whole. 

In September 2019, the NH Department of Education announced that it was awarded a grant from the US Department of Education for startup costs to increase, expand, and replicate charter schools in the state. Commissioner Frank Edelblut told the Fiscal Committee that, as part of the grant, the state would more than double the number of students enrolled in charter schools over the next ten years–from about 4,000 to nearly 8,000. 

The Department of Education cannot accept any federal grant money over $100,000 without the approval of the Fiscal Committee. 

Watch Reaching Higher NH’s video coverage of the hearing here. Learn more about charter schools with our Charter Schools Webinar. 

The Committee raised questions about:

  1. The financial impact long-term once the grant funds expire, and how it would affect future budgets and/or the general fund;
  2. The physical capacity of existing charter schools, and whether they are able to meet the enrollment goals stated on their applications to the State Board of Education when they were authorized;
  3. The implications of increasing the number of schools in the state when the student enrollment has continued to trend downward over the last ten years;
  4. Whether investing in charter schools would affect the financial health of neighborhood public schools;
  5. The current status of the Charter School Legislative Oversight Committee and the status of the legally mandated annual report, which was last issued in 2011; and,
  6. How this request for funding, and the associated costs to the state in charter school tuition, intersects with the soon-to-be-launched School Funding Commission’s upcoming work on the adequacy formula.

About the Grant

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.”

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. The funding will not be used to offset the tuition costs to the state, which pays State Board of Education-authorized charter schools $7,119 for each student. Local municipalities are responsible for raising funds for locally-authorized charter schools, which the Commissioner has stated that he is interested in expanding in the state.

Learn more about the grant from the US Department of Education here

About Charter Schools in New Hampshire

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. 

As of Fall 2019, there are twenty-nine charter schools in New Hampshire, serving roughly 4,000 students. 

Learn more about charter schools with our Charter Schools Webinar.