Mr. Arlinghaus’ erroneous column from two days ago has been pulled from the web. The Union Leader, running a correction for the biggest error, agrees that NHDOE was the author of a financial analysis clearly labeled as coming from NHDOE. (The column made other errors as well, like misunderstanding which bill was actually under discussion.)
But in today’s column Mr. Arlinghaus does it again. He makes the same mistake Rep. Ken Welyer made during the floor debate on HB 435. Both specialize in the New Hampshire budget – Rep. Weyler in helping write it and Mr. Arlinghaus in explaining it from a (very) conservative point of view. But they both misunderstand New Hampshire charter school funding and the role of the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS).
Here’s how it actually works.
The New Hampshire Department of Education and VLACS negotiate a contract before every biennium. At that point, it is fixed for the biennium.
The starting points for the VLACS contract are the current level of tuition aid per student and the projected number of students VLACS anticipates serving over the next two years. (Since the greatest majority of VLACS students is less than full time, VLACS and NHDOE use a formula for arriving at the equivalent number of full time students.) They must anticipate the expected growth in VLACS enrollment over the biennium, and that’s bound to be inexact, but VLACS must live within the resulting agreement either way.
Here’s where Mr. Arlinghaus makes his error in today’s column:
“The official note assumes, as the bill’s author and everyone else did, that the virtual school is unchanged. The contrary note reverses that assumption but leaves the fiscal note as-is.
One of those two documents is wrong. If one is right, the other must be quite wrong in its central assumption. The same author, the state Department of Education, cannot make two financial estimates based on contrary central assumptions. Yet it did and continues to stand by both documents.”
He is referring the the fiscal note at the end of HB 435. As you can see, the VLACS figure is indeed unchanged. That’s because the contract for the current biennium is already in place. The 2014/15 school year is the second year of the VLACS contract. The fiscal note assumes correctly that it will not change.
But in future years the contract would be negotiated at the then-current level of tuition aid per student aid. NHDOE obviously knows that and does its projections on that basis. Either VLACS or NHDOE could have confirmed all this for Mr. Arlinghaus in a five minute phone call.
So Rep. Weyler’s assertion on the House floor that his bill would not affect VLACS funding, faithfully reproduced here by Mr. Arlinghaus, was incorrect.
And NHDOE was both precise and conservative. The analysis assumes, based on a conversation with the director, that VLACS will grow at only 15% per year. VLACS’ enrollment has actually grown annually at at over 30% for the past 7 years – and last year grew 43%, from 700 to 1,000 students. In fact, VLACS enrollment is almost always larger than its contract pays for – VLACS just absorbs the difference. So the 15% growth shown in NHDOE figures is a very conservative figure. The actual cost of VLACS under HB 435 would likely have been higher than NHDOE projected.
As was the case in his last error, Mr. Arlinghaus could have prevented this mistake with a modest amount of reporting – one phone call. Instead, he uses an incorrect inference to support his desired analysis. A bad habit.