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Friday, April 27, 2012

Bill lifting charter school cap passes

CONCORD – Parents could soon have more educational options for their children, as Gov. John Lynch signed into law a bill lifting New Hampshire’s cap on state-approved charter schools.

Lynch signed the bill, HB 1495, last week, according to Colin Manning, the governor’s spokesperson. The move allows for the state Board of Education to begin approving proposals for new charter schools, which are publicly funded but do not operate under the same type of local control as traditional public schools.

The state currently has 11 charter schools, including the Academy for Science and Design in Merrimack, which first opened its doors in 2007. The last time the state Board of Education approved a new charter school was in 2007. There was still the ability to open charter schools locally during the moratorium.

The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2011, and only gives the state Board of Education until June 30, 2011 to approve new charter schools. It’s not clear whether the cap would then be reinstated. No one could be reached for comment at the Department of Education Friday.

The New Hampshire Center for Innovative Schools described the legislation as “providing far reaching benefits for both traditional and public charter schools.”

The move could not only lead the way to more charter schools in New Hampshire, but will likely help increase the state’s chances of landing a grant through the federal Race to the Top program. The state’s first application was rejected and was ranked 38th out of the 41 submitted.

One of the determining factors used in the Race to the Top is whether states are encouraging the growth of more charter schools. Applications from states like New Hampshire with caps on new charter schools were considered to have little chance of drawing any funding.

Many states have since changed laws regarding charter schools and merit pay for teachers with the hope of having a better chance during the second round of applications. New Hampshire has submitted another application, seeking $75 million.

In addition to lifting the cap on charter schools, the bill also changes the renewal term for a chartered public school from 7 years to 5 years.

In 2003, the state created a 10-year pilot program authorizing the state Board of Education to grant up to 20 applications during that period. The state used a federal charter school start-up grant to help schools with facilities other than opening costs.

As of the fall 2009, 15 of 16 applications have been authorized. Eleven schools are still open. Among them are the Virtual Learning Academy, which provides online course opportunities for high school students across the state.

The Academy for Science and Design has grown every year since opening. It plans to add a sixth grade to its current grades of 7 through 12, and increase enrollment to 190 kids next year, almost double the current figure.

Charter schools are open to all New Hampshire students. The state was providing charter schools with $5,500 per student during the 2009-10 school year. That figure is less than half of the state’s reported average per-pupil cost for 2008-09 of $11,745.55.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.