State charter school policy, especially the number and mission of charter schools, is a major issue facing New Hampshire public education. While charter school numbers and enrollment have grown in recent years, the 1,700 students in our public charter schools is less than 1% of the public school enrollment in the State. That’s because state policy so far has been for charters to play a limited and focused role in New Hampshire public education. Charter advocates nationally, and possibly in New Hampshire, seek a much larger role. Chicago has shut down public schools and increased charter enrollment to 13% and the process continues. In Washington, D.C., the traditional public school enrollment has decreased to 45,000 while charter school enrollment has increased to 34,000.
New Hampshire has avoided setting up this privatization dynamic by doing charters “the New Hampshire way,” but funding missteps in last year’s Legislature bring the debate to the fore as the Legislature looks for a fix this year.
One of the many venues in which the New Hampshire Legislature is engaging in that debate is the Charter Schools and Open Enrollment Legislative Oversight Committee, established in the original charter school statute in 1995. (The others include House Education and House Finance subcommittees, the Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee, the budget process and the halls of the Statehouse and Legislative Office Building).
The Joint Oversight Committee (here is the current composition) has met three or four times per year since it was formed, most recently last Monday, when it heard from State Board of Education chair Tom Raffio about the status of charter approvals and the impact of charter funding provisions in this year’s budget. While there is both factual and advocacy commentary integrated into this video of his remarks by charter advocate Matt Southerton, it provides a useful view of the impact of the legislative process on the charter approval process.
The same meeting heard from Roberta Tenney of the New Hampshire Department of Education that delays in establishing new charter schools would cause the State to lose charter startup funds allocated to New Hampshire by the federal government. We lost $800,000 as a result of lack of start-up activity last year and should expect to lose more if we establish fewer than 4 new charter schools per year.