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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Audit: It takes too long to approve or reject NH charterschools

It takes an average of 206 days to approve applications for chartered public schools in New Hampshire, according to a recent audit that calls the process “robust” but slow.

Applications were slowed by three layers of review before the application was even seen by the state Board of Education and a lack of explicit deadlines, said the audit, which questioned the need for the reviews and made suggestions for improvements, including putting a model of a completed application on its website. ...

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It takes an average of 206 days to approve applications for chartered public schools in New Hampshire, according to a recent audit that calls the process “robust” but slow.

Applications were slowed by three layers of review before the application was even seen by the state Board of Education and a lack of explicit deadlines, said the audit, which questioned the need for the reviews and made suggestions for improvements, including putting a model of a completed application on its website.

The audit was conducted by the Office of Legislative Budget Assistant over 18 months, through Dec. 31, 2013, on a recommendation of the joint Legislative Performance Audit and Oversight Committee to the Fiscal Committee of the General Court. The goal was to determine whether the current process is “efficient and effective.”

“If the process could be streamlined I would support it, as long as those responsible do not try to do an end run around the legislature and implement changes sought by charter school opponents last session,” said Matt Southerton,
co-founder and director of the New Hampshire Center for Innovative Schools, a charter school advocacy group.

Southerton was referring to proposed changes in HB1449, a bill that was killed by the state Senate in May.

Southerton he said would have made it more difficult for charters to file applications.

The audit findings were released by the New Hampshire Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee this July. The total average approval time was 462 days, according to the audit, but that included a 302-day legislative moratorium between September 19, 2012 and July 18, 2013, as part of a political struggle over budgets.

Other factors slowing approval included the quality of the applications received from proposed charters, three layers of review before the application was seen by the SBOE, and a lack of explicit deadlines.

The audit suggests the DOE post a model of a completed charter school application on its
website to bolster the quality of submitted applications. Also, the report questions whether application reviews conducted by the DOE Commissioner and other charter school peers were necessary. Lastly, specific time lines for the SBOE to review application materials should be included in its administrative rules or statute.

A total of 26 chartered public schools have been approved in New Hampshire with 18 in operation as of March 2014, according to the report. Four approved chartered public schools closed and the remaining four chartered public schools are set to open this fall.

A charter school is an independent, publicly funded school established by teachers, parents or community groups under the terms of a charter.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).