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A short course on charters in New Hampshire

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In 1995, the Legislature gave New Hampshire school school districts the authority to approve charter school applications.  The applications would then be presented to the state Board of Education for review and final approval.  Charters established that way would be funded by the school districts themselves at 80% of the cost of educating a student in that district.  This process did not result in many charter approvals. (Here is a 2002 Bartlett Center report describing the challenges.)

In 2003, the Legislature gave the charter program a fresh start by establishing a 10 year pilot program for up to 20 charter schools (HB 135) to be approved directly by the state Board of Education without the participation of the local school districts.  But in the 2007 budget and again in the 2009 budget, the Legislature enacted moratoriums on establishment of additional charter schools.  Here are the Department of Education overview of the New Hampshire charter school program, and  a 2007 review commissioned by the Department of Education covering the history and performance of New Hampshire charter school program.

Right now, we have 18 approved charter schools, 17 of which are open and 1 of which is scheduled to open this fall.  Charters are public schools but have their own boards of directors.  Their detailed charter applications, including their missions and curricula, are reviewed by the Department of Education and require the approval of the Board of Education.    At least half of charter school teachers must be certified in New Hampshire.  Charters are subject to extensive year-round accountability requirements, including state-wide assessment testing, for instance.  (Here is the 2012 adequacy report and here is the spreadsheet on which you can see charter school results alongside those of all other New Hampshire public schools.)

There are about 1,700 students attending New Hampshire’s brick-and-mortar charters right now.  Currently, the schools state adequacy funding of $5,450 per student per year.  In addition, the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (commonly known by its acronym, VLACS) provides free on-line coursework to full time VLACS students and supplementary course work for all New Hampshire students, all at no cost to the school districts.  Taken all together, New Hampshire currently spends about $13.4 million per year charter students.

The State’s original goal in 1995 was to establish charter schools “with specific or focused curriculum, instruction, methods, or target pupil groups.”  That has not changed.  Here is the chapter of New Hampshire law that governs our charter schools.  Of particular interest is this page showing the many components of the charter school application and this page explaining the application process and recent history. However, there has never been a settled and consistent commitment to charters in New Hampshire so the funding commitments have varied year-to-year and there is no coherent charter policy.


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