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Dave Solomon's Granite Status: Charter school advocates are just not feeling the love

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 23. 2014 8:50PM

Republican State Rep. Ken Weyler isn't giving up on his efforts to increase state funding for charter schools by about $800 per pupil.

He thought he'd made a convincing argument that the money is available due to declining enrollment in traditional public schools, and because four charter schools that were supposed to open last fall did not open.

But when the Department of Education produced frightening long-range estimates of the potential costs, the prospects for Wyler's bill faded and it was sent to interim study.

"But it's not dead," he said on Wednesday.

Wyler is lobbying senators to see if his bill can be attached as an amendment to education-related legislation that comes to the Senate from the House as the session is winding down.

The amended House bill, with the charter school funding attached, would then go to a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators, where it might survive last-minute horse-trading between the two chambers.

It's a long shot, at best.

It's hard to find anyone in the state Legislature or Department of Education who is opposed to charter schools. They are enormously popular in the 16 communities where they exist. More than 4,000 students are expected to be enrolled in charter schools by the fall, when four more are scheduled to open.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she sees charters as an important part of the educational mix in the state.

But charter school advocates are not feeling the love.

The frustration boiled over on Monday, when Weyler went ballistic on Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather in a hearing before the Charter Schools and Open Enrollment Legislative Oversight Committee.

He accused Leather of "underhanded dealings" in presenting cost estimates that torpedoed efforts to seek the small increase in the per-pupil "adequacy grant" for charter school students.

"In my estimation he had a program going from as soon as the bill was introduced to try to kill it," Wyler said on Wednesday. "The Legislature is the policy-making body, not the Department of Education. But everything they do in that department is anti-charter schools."

Leather said the department supports the fiscal note on the bill, which said costs could not be accurately estimated beyond one year, and developed the projected estimates out to 2018 at the request of a representative.

Money matters

The latest political ad funded by Americans for Prosperity and targeting Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen repeats the claim that health insurance premiums have increased 90 percent in New Hampshire since the advent of Obamacare — a claim that originally emerged earlier this month from a survey of 148 insurance agents nationally, one of which was from New Hampshire.

Even though the state Insurance Department has refuted the claim, it has taken on a life of its own.

Another AFP ad aimed at Shaheen focuses on the narrow network of providers created for in New Hampshire, titled "Hour Long Drives to See a Doctor."

Having failed to get Republican opponent Scott Brown to foreswear big money from third-party donors, Shaheen clearly does not intend to unilaterally disarm.

Independent campaign expenditures have been made in support of Shaheen, including $150,000 from the Senate Majority PAC, a political action committee headed by former aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and more than $200,000 by the League of Conservation Voters.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier in the week that Shaheen will be among a group of Democrat senators flying to Silicon Valley to "pick up campaign checks."

"In the next few days, with the Senate in recess, the Bay Area's political ATM, crowned by Silicon Valley, will attract Mark Begich of Alaska, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York," the newspaper reported.

With all the attention on Shaheen and Brown, voters may forget that Brown still has to win a primary — a primary in which former State Sen. Jim Rubens is keeping pace in the fundraising department.

Quarterly reports to the Federal Elections Commission show Scott Brown has raised $274,728, while Rubens raised $255,947. Former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith and Republican activist Karen Testerman were far behind, with $21,672 and $9,150 respectively.

Rubens is now calling it a two-man race in the GOP primary, although that position may be harder to maintain as the fundraising really heats up.

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