New Hampshire Charter Bill Being Used as Political Football

Why is an uncontroversial charter school bill currently being held up in New Hampshire legislature? Because of the Representative Dan Eaton, who is hoping to use the measure to score a few points in the upcoming budget negotiations.

In his own words, Representative Eaton – who heads up the powerful House Finance Committee – says that the charter school bill is his “trump card” when it comes to getting concessions from his opponents in the budget reconciliation stage. It isn’t that he doesn’t agree with the measure or opposes it on political or ideological grounds. Oh no. It’s a cudgel with which to beat his House and Senate colleagues, as Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute points out, and if that happens to have a negative impact on New Hampshire students, so be it.

The bill in question was intended to clear up a misunderstanding about a recent change to the Granite State’s charter school law that the state attorney general’s office understood to mean the opposite of what the legislative authors had intended. The bill, which restored the previous statutory language, had already received a positive recommendation from the NH House Education Committee and passed the full NH House on a voice vote, meaning that the support was so overwhelming that it was unnecessary to count the votes in favor and opposed. What seemed like common sense to most legislators apparently looked like an opportunity for political hostage-taking for Rep. Eaton.

Meanwhile, the fate of five charter schools whose authorizations are being held up due to the issues the charter bill was supposed to resolve remains up in the air. They will now have to wait until June to learn their fate – and therefore risk not being able to open in September as planned.

Everyone is familiar with the fact that in the halls of power, nothing gets done without compromise. It is fully expected that two houses of the New Hampshire legislature will be squaring off against each other come this summer over the two different versions of the budget bill. Being in position to control something the other side wants will definitely help in the process.

Yet even by those standards, Eaton goes rather too far – by laying aside his ideological views, and the fates of students for whom education is not a political staring contest – to give himself a leg up.

Jason Bedrick, a former New Hampshire lawmaker himself, both takes Eaton to task and hastens to reassure his readers that not all of the state’s elective representatives consider it morally justifiable to play political football with children’s education.

Most of the legislators I encountered in both parties were principled and completely dedicated to making New Hampshire an even better place to live. Unfortunately, these sort of legislative shenanigans leave a stain on the august institution. Let us hope that sunlight proves to be a sufficient disinfectant.