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NHDOE projections are realistic. HB 435 will change charter funding forever.

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Take this to be bank: Charlie Arlinghaus is wrong in today’s Union Leader about the source of the charter funding projections I post here and about the impact of HB 435, the bill to change the way charters are funded in New Hampshire.  He’s even wrong about what the bill says.

Here are the facts:

NHDOE prepared the figures.  If Mr. Arlinghaus had just called, they would have told him that.

NHDOE projects, based on clearly stated assumptions, that over the next 3 years HB 435 would  cost 30 million.  These are projections.  Your milage may vary.  But they are realistic.  (The bill sponsor, Rep. Ken Weyler, emailed me last night saying the figures were “inaccurate.”  I offered to review his figures but he did not respond.)

Here is the fundamental reality: HB 435 is not the one year sop-up-the-extra-appropriation bill supporters say it is.  It is fundamental change to how charters are funded in New Hampshire.

The bill that will go to the House floor today or tomorrow increases per student tuition aid for charters by $1,231, a figure that will increase every year into the future.  That’s because it is pegged to 50% of the statewide average per pupil cost of education.

Mr. Arlinghaus is in error when says that “bill before the House of Representatives would increase that funding level to 47.5 percent.”  Here’s the bill.  Rep. Weyler says he will offer a 47.5% amendment, but NHDOE projections speak to the bill the House is currently scheduled to vote on.

Rep. Wyler’s amendment would make little change in the projections.  Over time, factors like higher or lower enrollment levels could change the actual cost to the State of HB 435.  But  the reality is there is no cap on charter school growth in New Hampshire.  Mr. Arlinghaus talks about what he calls a school’s “binding enrollment cap,” but he’s got that wrong as well.  Some schools have a floating cap and the others will just ask for increases whenever they need to.

So there is no real cap on charter enrollment and, if recent trends continue, the costs will be very large.  Once they go up, charter costs to the general fund will not – even in hard times – go back down again.  And there is no source of revenue to cover these new costs – just the adequacy funds that should go to capped and low income communities.  Not to mention building aid – imagine what $30 million in building aid would do for New Hampshire public education.

Interestingly, Mr. Arlinghaus compares the $13,500 per pupil schools receive, primarily from local property taxes, to the $5,450 per student charters receive from the State.  There is no equivalence between those two figures – charters already receive much more from the State than other public schools do – but you do see in Mr. Arlinghaus’ piece the outlines of the charter argument for years to come:

“Yes, we said years ago that we needed only modest funding from the State, that we would come up with the rest ourselves.  But our new proposal is that we should get funding similar to the average cost of public education in New Hampshire.”

If HB 435 passed, the legislators can expect to annual proposals based on advocates’ arguments that, as Mr. Arlinghaus puts it,

“goodness gracious, [insert higher percentage here] still seems pathetically low. What sort of nimrod thinks this is unreasonable?”

You already see this reasoning in HB 1393, a bill that requires local school districts to fund charter students at the 80% level under certain circumstances.

HB 435 changes charter funding forever.  New Hampshire cannot afford to move thousands of students from its locally-funded public schools to a second ever-expanding system of state-funded charter schools.

That’s why the Legislature needs to study the charter funding issue instead of marching blindly into this high-cost future.

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