Monday, June 18, 2007

Educational Freedom at Risk are Homeschoolers Next? Contact your Legislators.

The following piece appeared in the Union Leader Contact your legislators and tell them to stop the insanity. Homeschoolers will surely be next in their hit list.

Killing charters: A murder in the Senate

Buried deep in the Senate's version of House Bill 2, the supplement to the state budget, is a provision that would kill the charter school movement in New Hampshire.

The provision removes the state Board of Education's authority to approve new charter schools after July 1. In New Hampshire, charter schools can be approved either by the state board or the local entity that approves the school budget. Fifteen charter schools have been approved for operation in New Hampshire. All of them were approved by the state board. Why? Because the local districts think they'll lose money and control if they approve a charter school. So they don't approve them.

Charter schools operate on a five-year, renewable charter. The provision in HB 2 could mean that none of the eight existing or seven approved charters will be renewed. As soon as each charter expires, the school will be at the mercy of the local district, which will kill it.

Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, said the idea was not to affect renewals, only new charters, and that the language could be changed if its effect would be to prevent the renewal of all charter schools.

D'Allesandro is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, where Senate President Sylvia Larsen introduced the provision as an amendment to HB 2.

The stated reason, D'Allesandro said, was to give existing charters time to get off the ground without new charters interfering.

But that makes no sense. Charter school startup funds come from a federal grant, a separate pool of money than the per-pupil allotments that keep a school running. The per-pupil money stays with the child, whether he is in a traditional public school or a charter school. (Charter schools are public schools.) So whether there are no new charter schools or 200, existing charter schools are affected not at all -- unless the schools are close by and they compete for students, but with only 15 approved in the state, those days are a long way away.

Banning the state approval of new charter schools is a significant policy change. As such, it should have received open debate and public comment. But this provision was quietly slipped into the supplemental budget bill, where major policy changes have no place. It is as if Sen. Larsen wanted to kill new charter schools but did not want anyone to know.

In conference, this provision must be removed from HB 2. It should stand as its own bill and be debated in public.

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