Charter Schools Get Blanket 'No' From State Board
Advocates for new charter schools urged the state Board of Education Wednesday to reconsider its blanket denial of all new applications, but the board did not budge.
New charter school proponents argued the board’s decision to put off any new approvals for at least three months jeopardizes the planned 2013 opening for several schools, as well as federal grant money to assist with startup costs.
Some chastised the board, saying they are ready to open next fall but face a daunting task if they have to wait until next year for approval.
“There was no need for this problem,” said Eileen Liponis of the New Hampshire Public Charter School Association. “It was created by the Department of Education and exacerbated by the board in retaliation for the school choice tax credit, which has nothing to do with us.”
Board Chairman Tom Raffio denied that and said the issue is funding.
He said the board cannot legally obligate the next Legislature to fund new schools. He said the $5 million shortfall in state tuition aid this year will be addressed by the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee and the Governor and Council.
“We have to wait for the next Legislature to be seated before we address those [schools] in the pipeline,” Raffio said.
Not a Conspiracy
Liponis and Matt Southerton, director for the N.H. Center for Innovative Schools, suggested the board had already obligated the next Legislature when it approved the new school in Derry that will open next fall.
Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Paul Leather said the cost would be in the next fiscal year’s budget with the understanding the resources would be there.
Raffio noted it was one school and a modest amount of money.
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.”
Schools Make Case
Most of the dozen or so people speaking at the meeting urged the board to support their applications for new schools.
Thomas Frischknecht, an incorporator of The Founders Academy, proposed for the Nashua area, told the board he was concerned because the denial decision appears to be one-sided.
“I ask you to reconsider and reach out to the charter school supporters,” Frischknecht said. “We should all be looking at common solutions.”
Sandra Tremblay, founder of the Innovative Futures Technical Academy planned for Dover, said her school would offer a world-class education in technology, science and math, and would enroll students from Berlin to the Seacoast.
Tremblay wondered whether the school could be self-sufficient without state tuition aid, could the application go forward and would the federal grant money be available.
Raffio noted the application could be approved if the school was not depending on state funding, and the federal grant money would be available.
Tremblay urged the board to involve the charter school community more.
“You have a room full of innovative educators and out-of-the box thinkers,” she told the board.
Karin Cevasco, development committee co-chairman of the Gate City Charter School for the Arts, said she was there to convince the board to approve the school’s application. The Gate City proposal is often cited as a school ready to open next fall needing only the board’s final approval.
“I know that in the end, we all can agree that the future of New Hampshire—the future of America—lies in the education of our children,” Cevasco said. “New Hampshire has a strong and rich history of being innovative. And we call upon the Department of Education to make a commitment to that history and make an investment in the lives of our children by approving the application of the Gate City Charter School for the Arts, so we may open our doors in late August 2013.”
A Formal Request
Raffio told the group a formal request would be sent Wednesday to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee for an additional $4.4 million to cover tuition grants for the 17 existing charter schools for this fiscal year. That is a separate issue from the additional money needed to pay for the applications in the pipeline, he noted, and that will have to wait until the Legislature acts once it sits in January.
Raffio said the issue could be quickly settled and if it is, then the board would again take applications, but noted financing is only one of the criteria for approval.
The board decided last month to deny all applications due to the funding issue. The decision has been panned by charter school advocates and lawmakers who say the board should go forward.
Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said last week she advised the board to deny the applications because she feared approving additional charter schools without the Legislature approving more money for state aid would open the state up to litigation.
Vol. 32, Issue 09