By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee tabled a $46 million education grant on Friday, the third time it has voted on what would expand the number of charter schools in New Hampshire, but the issue isn’t going away soon.
After the vote, Grant Bosse, spokesman for the Department of Education, said, “Commissioner (Frank) Edelblut will keep fighting for at-risk students and looking for ways to open up opportunities for their education.”
After the vote, Committee Chair Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, and committee member state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, issued a joint statement:
“Commissioner Edelblut may have made cosmetic changes but this is still the same proposal Fiscal has twice rejected due to concerns over the sustainability of the funding which have been exacerbated by President Trump’s move to slash this program in his budget proposal. Furthermore, Senator Bradley has filed a late bill relative to the Department of Education’s ability to accept federal funds and we must allow that legislative process to play out.”
Republican lawmakers led by Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, have submitted the late legislation, SB 747, that would authorize the state Department of Education to accept and expend up to $10,114,544 from the U.S. Department of Education to increase, expand or replicate the number of charter schools in the state.
The bill will be heard on Tuesday at 1 p.m. in State House room 103. It would allow use of the money to fund existing positions and establish two temporary full-time positions.
Edelblut hasn’t commented on the bill, but plans to testify.
Sponsor Bradley, a supporter of charter schools, said he’s expecting a large turnout at the hearing. He and a lot of people are perplexed about why the grant hasn’t been accepted when the state routinely accepts other federal funding, Bradley said Friday.
“At a time when we are trying to enhance public education to provide more opportunities for at-risk kids, we need a broader debate than just the Fiscal Committee,” Bradley said.
The two Democrats running for governor, state Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, both oppose accepting the grant.
“We need to support our public schools and the successful existing charter schools, work on the over 1,000 open spots in existing charter schools, and protect New Hampshire taxpayers. This fiscally irresponsible grant will cause our already record-high property taxes to continue to increase, which is unacceptable,” Feltes said.
Volinsky called a new analysis put forward by Edelblut on Wednesday politically motivated. Edelblut released a report that he said shows charter school expansion could save taxpayers between $62 million and $178 million over the next decade.
Volinsky said the release was timed to coincide with Gov. Chris Sununu’s State of the State address.
“The conclusion of substantial savings is at odds with all analyses to date,” Volinsky said. “The conversion of public schools to charter schools is reminiscent of the Private Academy Movement that was used in southern states to create a shadow school system designed to undermine desegregation. New Hampshire should focus on supporting its public schools, not creating schools that depend on private fundraising efforts that can sway the impartial purpose and objectives of public education.”
House Republican Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, released the following statement in response to Friday’s vote:
“Commissioner Edelblut has given the Fiscal Committee multiple bites at the apple now, but Democrats are still refusing to help kids. The vote to table the grant today is just more sour grapes from Democrats,” Hinch said. “Students do not learn in a one-size fits all environment and it’s extremely disappointing to see the Fiscal Committee, once again, denying New Hampshire children increased opportunities for educational success.”