Charter school advocates in New Hampshire were dealt a major setback last week when the state’s Board of Education refused to reconsider its blanket ban on all new charter school applications. The board is in the midst of a three-month moratorium on new charter approvals, and those asking the board to lift the moratorium have argued that it could delay the opening of new charters scheduled for 2013.
They also said that delaying charter approvals could mean that they would be unable to take advantage of federal grants that help to defray some startup costs.
Although those speaking against the board’s decision said that the ban was a retaliation for the passage of the school choice tax credit, Board Chairman Tom Raffio said that the decision was made only with finances in mind. He explained that the board lacks the authority to compel the legislature to fund new charters, and until the Joint Legislature Fiscal Committee closes the $5 million budget shortfall in state tuition aid, the board can not move forward with any more approvals.
Eileen Liponis of the New Hampshire Public Charter School Association does not find this explanation convincing, however. She pointed out that the board already exceeded the limits of its authority when it approved a charter in Derry without first ensuring that the Legislature made provisions to fund it. According to Raffio, when issuing the approval, the board took into account that this was only a single school and thus it was more likely that money for it would be eventually found.
Liponis cited a letter from the chairman of the House Education Committee in support of additional funding for new schools, saying it should put to rest any concern about future funding for charter schools.
“The ghost you reported and fear no longer exists,” she said. “These students and their families are not political pawns for you to play with.”
Raffio said there is no conspiracy afoot. The board supports charter schools, having approved 21 of them, he said.
“We followed the process to a T,” he said. “The board has been transparent with what we do. We’re doing our job.”
Meanwhile, Raffio assured those assembled that the board was about to submit a formal request to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee for an additional $4.4 million in funding that will cover the operating expenses of the existing 17 charters for the current academic year.