Series Primer: FAQs About N.H.'s Charter Schools

Oct 19, 2015

What is a charter school?

Here is the definition and breakdown as outlined on the New Hampshire Department of Education website:

“Charter schools are public and tuition-free schools. The focus of each public charter school is unique and based on the educational needs and interests of a particular community.

Public charter schools are granted a "charter" for a term of five years. The school's "charter" is a performance contract detailing its mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success.

Public charter schools operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools but agree to greater accountability. In exchange for this accountability, charter schools have the flexibility to choose the methods and processes they believe will best help the school deliver results. Innovative teaching practices and strategies, class structure and other academic tools can be used and tested and then modified to meet the needs of the student population.

Typically, the initiative to start a public charter school has significant community involvement and support. A wide variety of entities can establish a public charter school to include parents, teachers, community/business leaders, entrepreneurs and school districts.”

Who can start a charter school?

Per New Hampshire state law, three groups can start a charter school:

  • A nonprofit organization including, but not limited to, a college, university, museum, service club, or similar entity.
  • A group of two or more New Hampshire certified teachers.
  • A group of 10 or more parents.

There are two ways to get authorization for a charter school in New Hampshire. One is through local approval, either by a town-wide vote or by approval of the city. The other is through the state Board of Education. All but one of the state’s charter schools have gone with the second option.

Do charter schools teachers have to be certified?

State law requires that charter schools have “a minimum of 50 percent of teachers either New Hampshire certified or having at least three years of teaching experience.”

How many charter schools are there?

There are currently 25 charter schools open in New Hampshire, with another slated to open in the fall of 2016.

As of Oct. 1, 2014, 2,548 students were attending charter schools. That’s 1.3 percent of the state’s entire student population. Oct. 1, 2015 enrollment data is not yet available.

Interactive Map: Approved Charter Schools in New Hampshire

Click on map icons to learn more about New Hampshire's approved Charter Schools. Each school's "Focus" was provided by the school to the N.H. Dept. of Ed website.

Is 25 a lot of charter schools?

Regionally, yes. Maine has seven charter schools. Vermont has no charter school law. Massachusetts has 82 charter schools, Rhode Island has 29, and Connecticut has 18.

Larger states can have hundreds of charter schools. California had 1,130, as of 2013, the most of any state. That year, Florida had 625 and Arizona had 600.

Students at the MC2 Charter School in Manchester
Credit Via MC2's Facebook page

Who can attend a charter school?

Any student living in New Hampshire can attend any of the state’s charter schools, though parents often have to provide their own transportation.

What about transportation?

The local school district must provide transportation for any students attending a charter school in that district.

Can charter schools select students?

State law does allow charter schools to select students based on “aptitude, academic achievement, or need,” but that conflicts with federal law. Because all of the state’s charter schools receive federal funding, they must adhere to federal regulations.

State law requires that charter schools hold a lottery if the number of eligible applicants exceeds capacity.

Can special education students attend charter schools?

Yes. There are currently 251 special education students attending New Hampshire charter schools. However, the student’s home district is still responsible for implementing and paying for the Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.

Are students tested?

Yes. Students in charter schools take the same required statewide assessments as all other public school students.

Is there tuition?

No, charter schools cannot charge tuition for students living in New Hampshire. They can charge tuition for out-of-state students.

Students at MicroSociety Academy Charter School in nashua
Credit Via MACS Facebook page

How are charter schools funded?

Charter schools receive a per-pupil allocation from the state. Currently, that’s about $5,450 per student, but that’s set to increase in the new state budget.

In 2014-15, the state sent $19,588,179.98 in state aid and differentiated aid to charter schools.

Charter schools also receive federal funding in form of start-up grants and dissemination grants.

What kind of accountability requirements are in place?

Charter schools are due for reauthorization every five years. During a review, it’s determined whether schools have met the goals set out in their charter.

Do charter schools have to follow state education standards?

Yes. Charter schools must offer a curriculum that “meets or exceeds state standards in the subject areas offered.”

How are their finances tracked?

Charter schools must file quarterly annual reports with the state Department of Education. They must also perform an annual financial audit, which also must be filed with the state.

Have any New Hampshire charter schools shut down?

Four charter schools have closed since 2004, all due to lack of enrollment and finances.

Do students at charter schools perform better than students at other schools?

Scores from the New England Common Assessment Program from charter schools and traditional public schools.
Credit Sara Plourde/Source: New Hampshire Department of Education

Statewide assessment results can provide a general point of comparison, but there’s no data available that can conclusively answer that question.