By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — A change in party control will mean an about face on a federal grant to encourage and help develop and expand charter schools in New Hampshire.
At Friday’s organizational meeting of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, where Republicans will hold the majority, not Democrats who controlled the committee the last two years, a long-stalled federal charter school grant will be accepted by the Legislature.
Fiscal Committee members will be asked to accept the first installment — $10.1 million — of the $46 million five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
The grant was sought by state Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut without legislative input, and Democrats, who controlled the House and Senate last term refused to accept the money saying it would expand the state’s obligation to charter schools and syphon money away from traditional public schools at a time when they increased school funding to help poorer communities adversely impacted by the state’s education funding system.
The fiscal committee turned down Edelblut’s request to accept the first installment of the grant a half dozen times.
But Friday the fiscal committee with a Republican majority is expected to approve the initial $10.1 million.
“We’ve had schools waiting for this money for over a year, and it’s been held up for partisan reasons,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. “With the disruption from COVID, parents are looking for new ways to provide the best education for their children. This grant will open up options and give our successful public charter schools the ability to expand their programs.”
Democrats claimed the cost of the grant to the state would be much larger than the department’s estimate and would harm existing public schools.
Edelblut defended the grant program in a letter to fiscal committee members.
“New Hampshire’s national recognition as a state that supports innovative practices of competency-based, personalized teaching and learning, as well as home to a coherent system of innovative assessment and accountability, makes it a true testing ground for new school development, particularly for at-risk students,” he said. “Currently the state is home to 31 public charter schools. Seven of these schools meet the federal definition for high-quality charter school replication.”
He said the program would have a goal of 20 new public charter schools, seven replications of existing public charter schools, and five expansions of high-quality charter schools over the five-year grant period.
The program would add two staff positions in the Department of Education, a program administrator and a program specialist.
Current New Hampshire public charter schools have anticipated the money since the grant — the largest of its kind in the country — was awarded in August 2019, including five public charter schools that have already been approved by the State Board of Education and would receive up to $1.5 million apiece.
They are: Heartwood Public Charter School, K-8, Lancaster;
Kreiva Academy Public Charter School, K-8, Manchester;
Northeast Woodland Public Chartered School, K-8, Conway;
Spark Charter Academy of Advanced Technologies, 9-12, Manchester;
and Windham Academy Public Charter School, K-8, Windham.
Also Gathering Waters Chartered Public School, K-12, in Keene seeks State Board of Education approval to begin enrolling students in 2021and would be eligible to apply for $1.5 million.
North Country Charter Academy in Lancaster and Littleton and Academy of Science and Design in Nashua both seek replication grants of $1.2 million each.
Additionally, 20 current public charter schools would be eligible to apply for grants of up to $600,000 under the program.
The fiscal committee meets remotely at 10 a.m. Friday.
The public may listen to the meeting by calling 1-800-356-8278, then enter the 6-digit conference code: 125563.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.