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June 23. 2013 6:56PM

Hopes for charter school expansion receive boost

CONCORD ­— Advocates for public charter schools have renewed hope for expansion, now that lawmakers included $3.4 million to fund four new charters over the next two years, with $1.7 million in each year of the biennium.

The 11th hour compromise reached last week as House and Senate negotiators hammered out a budget is the latest twist in a roller-coaster year for the charter school movement in New Hampshire.

The year started with a boycott in place on any new charters, imposed by the state Board of Education, which cited a lack of funding. Gov. Maggie Hassan proposed $18 million in her budget to fund the opening of new charter schools and allow expansion at many of the 18 charter schools that now serve New Hampshire students.
The House then passed legislation that would have lifted the ban on charter schools and allowed funding for any charter approved by the state Board of Education. That bill got held up in a House subcommittee, pending negotiations with the Senate that resulted in last week’s compromise.
Charter schools are public schools whose students are chosen by lottery if there are more applications than space. They operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools but agree to a five-year, renewable charter establishing accountability to the state Board of Education. They usually have a particular emphasis, like science or fine arts.

If a student is accepted into a charter school, the state per-pupil education grant follows that student to the charter school, although the district school the student comes from retains the grant for one year as well, to allow time for budgets to be adjusted.

The state kicks in extra money for charter schools to make up for the fact that they get no money from the local tax base to supplement the state adequacy grant.

Federal money available

In addition to the state funding likely to be approved when the full House and Senate vote on the budget Wednesday, federal money is on the table. The New Hampshire Center for Innovative Schools received a $2.7 million grant to help charter schools start in August of this year, with another $2.5 million for the fall of 2014.

The federal and state money is sufficient for four charter schools to open this fall, according to Matt Southerton, director of the NHCIS.

The four most likely locations are those whose applications have been in the pipeline for the past year with the Board of Education. They include:

• The Gate City Charter School for the Arts, a K-6 school in Nashua with a projected enrollment of 100 students;

• The Seacoast High School for the Arts in the Exeter area, grades 9-12, with 100 students;

• Mountain Village Charter School, a K-6 school in the Plymouth area with a projected enrollment of 60 students, and;

• The Innovative Futures Technical Academy in Dover, grades 8-12, with a projected enrollment of 75.

“The Innovative Futures school was planning a STEM-based curriculum,” said Southerton in an earlier interview, referring to the science, technology, engineering and math curriculum. “But because of the politics involved, they might not go ahead with it. My hope is that they do because they have a quality application, brilliant people and a good partnership with the local school district.”

With the exception of Plymouth, the four schools likely to open continue a trend of charter schools being located primarily in the southern tier of the state. They have been enormously popular with parents and students, turning away hundreds of applications each year through the lottery system.

There are only three charter schools north of Concord. Gov. Hassan had proposed a focus on under-served areas like the Lakes Region, Upper Valley or the North Country in funding charter school expansion.dsolomon@unionleader.com


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