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Friday, September 28, 2012

Charter school moratorium was avoidable

Telegraph Editorial

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello have made a lot of people laugh over the years with their famous “Who’s on First” comedy routine from the late 1930s, but few bothered to crack a smile last week over a more serious breakdown in communication that led to a moratorium on new charter schools in New Hampshire.

Last Wednesday, with little advance warning, the state Board of Education voted to place a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools, raising the ire of lawmakers, charter school advocates and parents already engaged in the planning of new schools. ...

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Bud Abbott and Lou Costello have made a lot of people laugh over the years with their famous “Who’s on First” comedy routine from the late 1930s, but few bothered to crack a smile last week over a more serious breakdown in communication that led to a moratorium on new charter schools in New Hampshire.

Last Wednesday, with little advance warning, the state Board of Education voted to place a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools, raising the ire of lawmakers, charter school advocates and parents already engaged in the planning of new schools.

The state board took that action because members weren’t confident there was enough money in the state budget to continue authorizing them. During the past two years, the board has approved eight new schools, which has led to a pending shortfall of $5 million in the current state budget.

“The problem now is that while we’re certainly supportive of the concept of the charter schools, we need to make sure that parents and students are protected, and to make sure that schools are sustainable,” said Tom Raffio, chairman of the state board.

Apparently, talk of a moratorium came as news to state lawmakers, including Rep. Michael Balboni, R-Nashua, head of the House Education Committee.

Ditto for Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, chairman of the Legislative Fiscal Committee, who said he had spoken to state Department of Education officials about the money crunch but had never received their anticipated request for an additional $5 million.

The Legislative Fiscal Committee, which consists of five representatives and five senators, has the authority to approve transfers within the state budget when the Legislature is not formally in session.

State education officials are now expected to bring forward that request in
time for the committee’s Oct. 26 meeting, at which point Weyler is optimistic $5 million can be found in the budget to redirect toward charter schools. If that happens, Raffio said his board would consider lifting the moratorium at its Nov. 21 meeting.

All’s well that ends well?

Perhaps, but it certainly seems the moratorium could have been avoided altogether – and with it the anger and disappointment in charter school circles – if there had been better communication between state education officials and lawmakers prior to the vote.

Based on what everyone is saying now, an understanding that the Legislative Fiscal Committee would consider such a request might have been enough for the board to hold off on the moratorium vote.

There is also the question of whether the moratorium was even necessary, given the likelihood that any charter schools approved in the coming months wouldn’t be ready to open until after the next two-year state budget goes into effect July 1 of next year.

Finally, we always thought it was the responsibility of the state Board of Education to approve or reject new applications for charter schools based on their merits, not on the perceived mood of the Legislature.

Given there is no way to accurately predict the makeup of the 400-member House of Representatives and 24-member state Senate every two years, board members might be better served focusing on the applications rather than the budgetary machinations of the Legislature.