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Why is everything about New Hampshire charter schools so up-in-the-air?

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In case you missed it, there was a big kerfuffle over charter funding last year.  On September 19, 2012, the NH board of education denied all pending applications to start charter schools, saying that funding for them had not been made available by the Legislature.  Here are the minutes of that meeting.  The NH attorney general had advised the board of education that this was the only course of action open to the board.  (Here’s the AG office’s letter explaining the opinion.)   In the end, it became clear that the funds for new charter schools could not be made available until authorized by the new Legislature to be seated in January of 2013 (as explained in the board minutes here).

Advocates want to blame anti-charter forces for all this, but here is what it looks like to me.  Charters are public schools and state support for charters is allocated on a per child basis from our adequacy funds, as it is for every other public school student in New Hampshire.  Charters get a flat $5,450 per student.  Three years ago, our Legislative Budget Accounting Office started accounting separately for the adequacy funding going to charters.  In other words, they made it a separate line item in the state budget.

At about the same time, in the 2009 budget at the depths of the recession, the Legislature put a moratorium on establishing new charter schools for two years starting July 1, 2009.  They may have done it anyway, but it was necessary in any case in order to get $400 million in stimulus funding vitally important to shore up our state adequacy aid to public education.

The next Legislature lifted the moratorium.

But, at that point, since charters had become a separate line item in the budget, the Legislature was required to budget for specific numbers of charter school students.  Money was still tight so they budgeted for only 50 additional charter students over the next two years, apparently with the notion of revising that number later.  But the Legislature never did revisit the charter funding topic, which is why the Legislature ran out of money in 2012 and the Board of Education could approve no further charter applications.

If you talk with any 10 people involved, you will get 10 different versions of this story, complete with plots attributed to anti-charter forces.  However, I think this rendition is accurate enough to serve as background for considering this year’s charter bills.

What is not debatable is that all this leaves us at this point with no charter policy or charter funding strategy.

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