New Hampshire became the latest state to fully invest in school choice when Governor John Lynch approved a bill that would do away with limits on how many charter schools the state may allow to operate. The bill, HB 1495, clears the way for the Board of Education to start evaluating additional charter school applications.
Until the passage of HB 1495, the state had a moratorium on state-sponsored charter schools – schools that are funded by the New Hampshire government but operate under a different governing and regulatory structures than traditional public schools. The last such school was approved in 2007, and currently there are 11 state-sponsored charter schools operating around New Hampshire. Although the Board of Education couldn’t issue approvals to charter schools until now, local school districts weren’t so constrained, and many took the opportunity to experiment with school choice during this time.
In 2003, New Hampshire began a pilot program using a federal charter school startup grant to approve up to 20 schools and monitor them for a decade. Since that time, the Board of Education granted 16 schools permission to operate, including those operated by the Virtual Learning Academy, which offers online courses to high schoolers around the state.
The new law will also force the schools to apply for new licenses every five years instead of every seven.
The drive to lift the caps on new charters came about after the state was locked out of any of the Federal Race to the Top funding, which heavily weighed how enthusiastically a state embraces school choice. New Hampshire’s first proposal was ranked 38th out of 41 submitted and didn’t even make it to the second round.
In the past several years, many states expanded their school choice efforts in order to better position themselves to receive a Race to the Top grant. Earlier this year, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal approved the expansion of the school voucher program to the entire state. Previously, the program, which allowed parents to use state-funded vouchers towards tuition at any private schools, was limited only to New Orleans and other low-income districts.
A new report recently found that Denver would be better off turning to charter schools in order to fix its education system rather than stick to the cumbersome and complicated turnaround strategies recommended by the federal government. And in Georgia, the pro- and anti-charter school advocates are squaring off over an initiative that would amend the constitution to allow charter schools to operate in the state. The voters will get their chance to weigh in on the subject this November.
Some areas, however, are bucking the trend and actually reducing their school choice participation. The board of the Beverly Hills School District unanimously decided to stop issuing inter-district permits for students out of the district to attend its public schools. On a vote for 4-1, they also agreed to continue revoking already issues permits for students in the 4th and 8th grade.