CONCORD, N.H. -- Outraged charter school advocates plan to pressure the New Hampshire Board of Education to reverse its recent decision to enact an indefinite moratorium on authorizing new schools.
The board voted last week to deny all pending charter school applications, citing uncertainty over state funding. But charter school officials, parents and others hope to change that with letters, petitions and in-person appeals at the board’s next meeting, set for Oct. 17.
"We have a five-year budget plan in place, we have a curriculum plan in place, we have a building picked out. We’re ready to move," said Don Erdbrink, a board member of the Seacoast High School for the Arts. "And now we can’t do anything because of this decision."
The state spends about $5,450 per charter school student each year. But given the rapid growth in recent years, the current total wouldn’t be enough going forward, board chairman Tom Raffio said.
He said the board supports charter schools, and points to the 11 schools that are up and running and seven more that have been approved as proof of that support. But it wouldn’t be fair to the 15 others that have been proposed to approve them without knowing whether funding will keep pace, he said.
"As we were running the numbers, it became very clear ... that the funding just wasn’t there in terms of what the state had put aside for charter schools," Raffio said.
Erdbrink was one of about 20 people who attended a strategy meeting Monday at the offices of a nonprofit group called Network for Educational Opportunity, which was set up under the state’s new education tax credit program. Under that program, businesses get tax credits for donating to scholarship funds that help children pay for private school tuition or home-schooling.
"It’s really about these parents and families who’ve created these amazing education options for their kids and communities," said Kate Baker, the group’s executive director. "So to pull the rug out from under those families, that’s the error in judgment right there. ... They’re supposed to approve the schools based on merit, and then the Legislature is in charge of finding the money."
Raffio, however, said the board made its decision very carefully, discussing it over the course of several months and checking with the attorney general’s office to confirm that its duties include evaluating the financial aspects of each application. Raffio said he has been receiving hundreds of emails a day from charter school proponents, and while he expects the October meeting to be "lively," he doesn’t anticipate the board reversing its decision.
But, "if magically somehow the state came up with the additional funds, then we could definitely reconsider," he said.