School Choice & Charters

New Hampshire Approves Moratorium on Charter Schools

By Sean Cavanagh — September 21, 2012 2 min read
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New Hampshire’s state board of education has taken the highly unusual step of placing a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools, arguing that the legislature has not adequately funded them and that their costs are poised to balloon in the years ahead.

Board members voted this week deny all applications it receives to open new charters in the state until more funding is provided for those schools.

In a letter explaining the decision, board Chairman Tom Raffio said the panel “continues to be supportive of charter schools.” But he noted that the board has approved eight new charter schools over the past two years, increasing the state’s costs by $5 million. Without additional funding, he said, “it would be inappropriate to approve any new charters schools at this time.”

The moratorium would apply only to charters that come to the state for approval. Charter schools that seek approval by individual school districts—an option allowed in New Hampshire—could still go forward, if authorized by local officials, Raffio explained.

New Hampshire has only a fraction of the number of charters in other states. But the sector is poised for rapid growth, with the state having received 15 applications for new charters, said Paul Leather, the state’s deputy commissioner of education, said in an interview.

The state is obligated to pay a per-pupil cost for the charters it authorizes, Leather said. Presumably, as those costs rise, other costs would fall as students leave regular public schools for charters. But that budgetary trade-off is not occurring to the extent needed to keep costs in check, for a variety of reasons, Leather said. The reduction in regular public school expenses, based on student enrollment, does not occur quickly enough to offset state costs, he said. And even when regular public schools lose students, some of their costs, such as those covering operations and personnel, are fixed.

“One [cost] going up doesn’t cause the other to go down,” Leather said. Over time, the state’s expenses are “ramping up very rapidly.”

The moratorium is likely to stay in place until the legislature convenes early next year and comes up with a strategy for covering charter schools’ costs more adequately, the deputy commissioner said.

The board’s action disappointed officials from the New Hampshire Center for Innovative Schools, a nonprofit that supports charters in the state. In a statement on the organization’s web site, it called the board’s logic “deeply flawed.” It said the board’s concerns were exaggerated, and it predicted the legislature would provide funding to meet the demand for charters.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.