HB 299 gives the New Hampshire Board of Education full access to the State’s General Fund to pay for as many new charter schools as the board approves. Here is how the fiscal note explains it.
Under current law, if necessary expenditures exceed appropriation, the Department is authorized to expend funds up to 110% of appropriation and seek joint fiscal committee approval to expend beyond 110% of appropriated funds. This bill would eliminate the both of these provisions and allow the Department to expend funds necessary regardless of appropriated amount.
In effect, the bill removes the role of the Legislature’s Fiscal Committee in determining whether the funds are available to fund new charter schools.
The bill is a response to the charter funding mixup last year and the committee was split down the middle about how to respond. The Chair proposed retaining the bill, along the three other charter school bills before the committee, and studying the major questions New Hampshire faces about charter schools, with the goal of introducing legislation in the next session. In addition, Chairwoman Gile said, there would be no benefit to passing the bill out of committee because both the Speaker and the chair of the House Finance Committee had told her that it would voted Inexpedient to Legislate in the Finance Committee because the money is just not available.
The committee generally supported that idea of further study of charters but was concerned that if New Hampshire did not authorize more charter schools soon, we would lose some of the federal funds allocated to the State for charter start-ups (about $500,000 per school). Rep. Gorman reported that the Commissioner of the Department of Education, Virginia Barry, had confirmed that no federal money would be lost as a result of retaining this bill, but the committee did not seem convinced.
The motion to retain HB 299 failed on a 9-9 vote. A subsequent motion to recommend Ought to Pass passed by a vote of 11-8, charter supporters apparently feeling they would rather risk an ITL in the Finance Committee than try to convince the Fiscal Committee to fund the charter schools with applications pending.