For the past few months a number of proposed charter schools in New Hampshire have been in a sort of limbo, unable to formally apply to the state because of funding concerns in the Board of Education. Today the legislative fiscal committee took a step that might move the issue forward.
Brady Carlson: So Sam, for folks who haven’t been paying attention, bring us up to speed on the charter school situation.
Sam Evans-Brown: Well Brady, back in September the Board of Education voted to stop accepting any new Charter School applications, which came as a total shock to the folks who had been working to open schools. The reason for this decision was that the Attorney General’s office advised the Department of Education that they cannot approve schools that will be funded by next year’s budget, because in so doing they would be obligating lawmakers to pay for these schools. And I don’t have to tell you Brady that the way our system works is that the legislature has the power of the purse, not government bureaucracies, so that would be unconstitutional.
Carlson: Ok, well what happened today?
Evans-Brown: So today the fiscal committee approved $4.4 million dollars of spending for charter schools above and beyond what had been appropriated. This money had been set aside because there was a discrepancy in what the House and Senate thought charter schools were going to cost the state. The DOE gave a lower number and charter advocates gave a higher number. The legislature went with the lower number, but made the extra money available, because they had an idea that it might be needed.
Now, part of what appears to have caused this problem, Brady, is that department were all under immense pressure to submit low budget requests because of budget restraints. So I think what we’re seeing here is a bit of the fall-out from that, though, at least for the schools that have already been approved the money was there.
Carlson: But that's a key distinction schools that have already been approved what about other schools?
Evans-Brown: Well that’s the rub, Brady is that the DOE still says they don’t have the authority to approve schools opening next year, which is a major bone of contention. Everybody who’s at the table seems to be in favor of charter schools, but a 2011 change in the budgeting process has made it really difficult to pay for those schools. I’d like to play a bit from the last Board of Education meeting in October. You’re going to hear Eileen Liponis from the New Hampshire Public Charter School Association questioning Board Chairman Tom Raffio and Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather. She wants to know why one school which is slated to open next year, The Next Charter School in Derry New Hampshire, was approved last May.
What your basically hearing there, Brady is education officials saying Oops, and admitting they didn’t understand how the new funding rules worked. This is something that needs to be dealt with.
Carlson: So until it’s dealt with what’s the story for Charter schools that are in the approval pipeline.
Evans-Brown: Well Brady, For the time being they are very much stalled out. New schools won’t be approved until the next budget is signed, and with the legislature now divided between Democrats and Republicans that might not be until early summer. If that’s the case, some of these schools might have to delay opening, and who knows that kind of a delay could be very tough on some of these projects.