Tom Raffio, chair of the New Hampshire Board of Education, says with declining enrollment across the state, the continued growth of charter schools need to be looked at from a public policy perspective.
"Public schools, regular public schools are starting to lay off teachers because of the fact that there are fewer pupils. If students also go to charter schools, there will be a further diffusion of resources. So we want to look at it from an overarching perspective."
The state Board of Education approves most charter school applications, and oversees the five-year renewal process for those schools.
Raffio spoke with NHPR's Morning Edition about charter schools for the series, "A Growing Choice."
What needs to be done to encourage more charter schools to open in these rural parts of the state?
It still comes down to you need the passion of some founders. We do definitely look at the geography and have occasionally asked a charter school applicant to perhaps relocate into a different town if there’s a charter school that’s too close by.
As the number of schools continue to grow, from a policy perspective, is the state ready for 40, 45, 50 schools?
We always had said than when it got to about 20, we would have to take a step back, that’s kind of a rule of thumb. So we are kind of taking a step back, obviously federal grant money is limited, as well. We want to look at it from a public policy perspective because just in general in the state of New Hampshire, there’s a declining enrollment. So already public schools, regular public schools are starting to lay off teachers because of the fact that there are fewer pupils. If students also go to charter schools, there will be a further diffusion of resources. So we want to look at it from an overarching perspective.
So as budgets are constrained and school districts are dealing with declining enrollment overall, are we likely to see more tension between school districts and charters starting up?
Yes, I would say there may be some natural tension. I hear from principals of regular public schools that if they had some of the flexibility that charter schools have had and they weren't dealing with special education or some other things, that they could be as successful as some of the stories you hear coming out of charter schools. On the other hand, we're all educators, we all want to do what's best for the children, and those situations where the local school district is cooperating with the charter school, it actually works out quite nicely.
Have perceptions changed across the state? I don’t know what you were hearing years ago as opposed to what you’re hearing now in different communities and school districts.
I think there’s still a knowledge gap that these are part of the public school system and perform a role like the North Country in addressing the dropout rate or online classes with VLACS for example. I think we still have a ways to go for everyone to understand what a public charter school is and isn’t.