Charter Schools Series

Flickr user: schoolchoiceweek

The national charter school movement is growing - 2.5 million students are attending roughly 6,000 charter schools.

Another 1 million students are on wait lists.

Still, there are issues: charter schools overall receive less funding than traditional public schools and are located primarily in urban areas, limiting access to students in rural communities.

Michael Brindley for NHPR

Having spent 12 years working in the private sector, Academy for Science and Design math teacher Jay O'Connell says he has no problem with his salary being based on performance.

“I always think merit first,” he said. “If I do well, I know the staff will support me. I have no problem with that being based on how I perform. That’s how it is out in the real world, so no union here, it doesn’t bother me.”

As is common in public charter schools, ASD in Nashua has no teacher's union.

Michael Brindley for NHPR

For Dakota Benedetto, trying to get a charter school approved hasn't been an easy task.

They ask for a five-year projected budget. Since the first year is kind of pre-opening, but you’re still at least a year out from when you’re writing it, you’re looking six or seven years in advance, so how much money are you going to be spending on copy paper seven years from now? That whole process of trying to juggle the numbers and get the budget to work was challenging. 

Michael Brindley for NHPR

Two new charter schools that opened this fall each have a unique philosophy toward education.

But the first few weeks for these new additions to the state’s school choice roster show just how bumpy the road to opening a charter school can be.

www.nec.edu

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."

Michael Brindley for NHPR

North of the notches, the only charter school choice for students is the North Country Charter Academy, which serves high school-aged students in Littleton and Lancaster who have struggled in a traditional school setting.

Avion Erceg is one of those students.

She’s 16 years old and lives in Lincoln, and is one of about 20 students sitting at their computers in a classroom at the Littleton campus on a recent morning.

Michael Brindley for NHPR

A federal review of New Hampshire’s charter school program raised concerns about gaps in state oversight when it comes to how public money is being spent.

A monitoring report of New Hampshire’s charter school program released in February found several charter schools were misusing their federal start-up grant money.

One example was a school that rented a “party bus” limousine to transport students to a symposium.

Michael Brindley for NHPR

At the Academy for Science and Design in Nashua, National Science Bowl championship banners hang on the cafeteria.

Test scores here are some of the highest in the state; 96 percent of the school’s eighth-graders are proficient in math.

Compare that to just 64 percent statewide.

Michael Brindley for NHPR

Many charter schools rely on parent volunteers to fill gaps due to lack of funding, whether it’s filling in at the front desk or helping teachers in the classroom.

But at some charter schools, volunteering isn’t optional.

At Surry Village Charter School, families are required to spend 20 hours a year volunteering at the school. That’s according to the “parent participation” section of the school’s parent handbook.

Photo via Facebook

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.