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The HB 435 highlighted the tipping point in New Hampshire charter policy

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Dave Solomon, from his new “Granite Status” chair replacing John DiStaso, wrote recently that charter schools

“…are enormously popular in the 16 communities where they exist….But charter school advocates are not feeling the love.”

He was referring to the fact that Rep. Ken Weyler (R-Kensington) and other charter advocates are angry the HB 435 failed.  The bill would have increased charter tuition aid by indexing it to the average cost of education in New Hampshire.

In voting down what would have been a large increase in charter funding, the New Hampshire House might have been saying, “We do appreciate what our charter schools do, but we might not be ready to set up the second education system in New Hampshire funded entirely from the State’s general fund.”

Should charters supplement district schools, 
as many charter schools do now, 
or to replace them, 
as many national charter advocates propose?

It turned out that HB 435 highlighted what may be a tipping point.  The State is figuring out – slowly, in the New Hampshire way – the role of charters in the State.  The question for policy makers is, should charters supplement district schools, as many charter schools do now, or to replace them, as many national charter advocates propose?  Funding increases would not only be costly in themselves but could stimulate even faster charter growth, but with no clear charter policy yet in place.

Will the role of charters in New Hampshire be to cooperate or compete?  The early New Hampshire charters supplemented and cooperated with school districts and many still do.

The Next Charter School, in Derry, is a great example.  Derry does not have its own high school, contracting with Pinkerton Academy instead.  Some middle school students don’t feel Pinkerton is right for them and the Derry school board had talked for years about how to serve their needs.

In the fall of 2011, Derry superintendent at the time, Mary Ellen Hannon, asked her two middle school assistant principals, Joe Crawford and Justin Krieger, to look into setting up a charter high school for those students.  Working nights and weekends, they prepared a proposal, presented it the school board in January of 2012 and submitted it to the State the following month (here is the application).  The State Board of Education approved the application that June and the Next Charter School continues to maintain a close relationship with the district.

For the 2012-13 school year, Mr. Crawford and Mr. Krieger worked one day a week on setting up Next.  The school opened in September, 2013, with 30 students (45 next year), with Mr. Crawford and Mr. Krieger as co-heads of school.  Next has its own dollar-a-year space, with its own entrance, at the Hood Middle School.  Lunch comes over from the cafeteria.

Two Derry school board members and the superintendent serve on the Next board.  The co-heads are still employees of the school district, with decreasing salary subsidies over the first 5 years.  Next has space – and its own entrance – at the Hood Middle School for $1 per year.

Charters that play a clear role valued by school districts and find support as part of the locally-funded public school system don't need HB 435-type funding increases.

Next gets the normal $5,498.30 in state adequacy funds in the form of tuition aid for each student each year, but the district also pays what it would have paid Pinkerton (about $10,700 this year), less the amount it looses in adequacy (about $4,748 this year).  So Next gets tuition of $11,500 per student per year to fund its program.

A new charter high school, the Granite State Arts Academy, will start up in Derry in September as well.  Based on its established policy, the Derry school board will probably offer Granite State the same tuition support Next gets.

North Country Charter Academy is another example of an integrated, cooperative charter school.  North Country was established in 2004 by nine north country districts and four Vermont districts to assist students at risk for dropping out but committed to graduating from high school (here is the North Country charter renewal evaluation).  They have their own space, in Littleton and Lancaster, where they provide computer based instruction combined with faculty coaching and support to about 100 students per year.

Each year, each district contracts with NCCA to take a certain number of students, for which it pays, currently, $5,559 per student per year.  NCCA receives from the State about $4,398.64 per year per student, instead of the normal $5,498.30, because, as school head Lisa Lavoie says, “we are open enrollment and our seats are not completely filled 180 days.”  So NCCA receives a total of $9,957 per student.  In addition to parent representatives, several superintendents and school board members from sending districts serve on the NCCA board.

Manchester’s MC2 – Making Community Connections – is completing its second year and has 70 high school students who wanted an alternative to their local high schools, either Manchester or the surrounding communities (here is the MC2 charter application).  MC2, which is organized around competency and community based learning, does not receive funding from the Manchester school district but maintains a close relationship.  Student lunches are sent over from the district and the staff coordinates with Manchester guidance councilors, discussing students who might benefit from the MC2 program.

Great Bay eLearning Charter School, started in 2005 (renewal evaluation), was designed, Great Bay says, “to serve students who are not thriving, for whatever reason, in a traditional environment.” It is a project-based school 160 students in grades 8-12 housed in the former Exeter High School building.

Great Bay is sponsored by the Exeter Cooperative School District and several school district representatives sit on the Great Bay board of trustees.  While there is no legal obligation, Great Bay receives funding from Exeter, Derry, and Northwood.

These are all state chartered schools, so the school districts have no obligation to fund them.  They demonstrate that charters that play a clear role valued by school districts and find support as part of the locally-funded public school system don’t need HB 435-type funding increases.

Update 5/18/14: I have revised this post to reflect NCCA school head Lisa Lavoie’s response to my emailed question about the per student tuition she receives.




  1. Stephen Scaer says:

    Mr. Duncan:
    Are the charter schools you cite all staffed by NEA teachers, and do you support any charter schools that are not affiliated with public school districts?

    • Bill Duncan says:

      You are incorrect, Stephen. And, yes, I am in favor of charters, unionized or not, that play an integral cooperative role in the districts they serve.

      • I don’t know how it’s possible to ask an incorrect question, and you haven’t answered mine: Do you and will you support charter schools that are not affiliated with a public school district, such as the Academy for Science and Design?

        • Bill Duncan says:

          I must have misread your question before. As far as I know, none of the charters I have visited so far have NEA contracts. I didn’t ask, but you could.

          It’s not a matter of “supporting” or not charters without cooperative relationships with the districts they serve. My personal observation is just the obvious one – that charters with those relationships will have greater financial stability.

  2. Amy Bewley says:

    You cite schools that are in place for a specific district, what about charter schools that meet a need of students from all over the state such as The Academy for Science and Design in Nashua which meets the needs of students who wish to pursue an advanced STEM curriculum? Two of my children attend this school in Nashua though we reside in a neighboring town (while my 3rd child remains in our district as he was not a good fit for a STEM based school). This school relies on the state funds it receives per student and to indicate that if a charter school meets the need or works closely with a district then they are better funded is quite frankly insulting to the schools that do not serve just one district.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      Not true. NCCA is 10 districts. Great Bay is paid by several districts. MC2 has kids from several districts. All charters must accept from multiple districts. ASD is in good company. You shouldn’t take umbrage so easily.

      I should add, though, that I do agree that dealing with multi-district financing is difficult and uncertain. The problem is, there is very little money at the state level either. So its really something we need to work on together.

      • amybewley says:

        How would a charter school such as ASD obtain multi-district financing? Not trying to be confrontational, just honestly curious how a school such as this STEM school who struggles financially to meet the needs of these students would go about this? I do have two boys that attend this wonderful school (and a 3rd who was not a good fit who attends school in out home district of Merrimack, which as an employee of the district I also support)?

        • Bill Duncan says:

          That isn’t a question I could respond to here, and it’s not a role assigned to the SBOE under the law, but I should think that would be something the charter community could be discussing.

          Both North Country and Great Bay have found ways to do it. Their arrangements may not be right for all schools, but could be a starting point for discussion.

  3. Bill, this is why, by definition The Academy for Science and Design and other independent charter schools need your support:

    “New Hampshire Charter Schools renewed by the State Board of Education to include approved minutes from the State Board of Education meeting and the Charter School Renewal Visitation Summary Report.”

    I’m concerned by what you post on your website and your alliance with the NEA:

    ” . . .here is a reason that Bill was awarded the NEA-NH Friend of Education Award in 2013, and the Communicator of the Year Award in 2014. The Executive Council will be voting on his nomination Thursday. Please contact your Executive Councilor and urge them to support his appointment.”

    Given that you have used this forum to oppose increased funding for charter schools, and that you have a close relationship with the NEA, will you continue to use your position to oppose approval and renewals of charter schools, such as the Academy for Science and Design?

    When I spoke with Deborah Pignatelli, she said I would be surprised by your votes. In what ways should I expect to be surprised?



    • Bill Duncan says:

      I do share with the NEA-NH and AFT-NH the goal of making the voices of our teachers heard. You will see those voices on the ANHPE site. You can also see legislative testimony and radio interviews that NEA-NH supports the approach New Hampshire has taken to charters up to now.

      As for future votes, here are the criteria for SBOE approval of a charter school application.

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