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Charter school bill would change school authorization process in NH

By Staff | Feb 28, 2015

CONCORD – A House bill would make it easier to open public charter schools by allowing more groups to approve the schools.

If passed, House Bill 625 would repeal and replace current law on the establishment of charters.

“I’m hoping it makes things easier to get charters authorized,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston.

The bill would circumvent the state Department of Education to establish new charters.

Weyler said charter approval through the department is “a lengthy process full of delays.” Citing an audit by the legislative budget assistant, Weyler said the three-year startup grant charters receive tends to run out before school is approved.

“It’s better to have a less partisan approval process,” he said.

Weyler said Democrats’ opposition comes from a desire to be aligned with the National Education Association.

The bill is inspired by similar legislation under review in several other states.

“It’s kind of an amalgamation … from Mississippi, the state of Washington and the charter alliance,” he said.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools published the model legislation in 2009.

It can be found on
the organization’s website,
publiccharters.org.

Opponents say the bill fundamentally changes how charter schools are managed in the state.

“This is like moving from Venus to Mars,” said Bill Duncan, education activist and state Board of Education member.

The bill shifts the role of charters from supplementing district schools to reforming education in the state.

“I think it promotes unfettered, unmanaged growth and runs counter to the consensus charter policy that exists,” Duncan said.

“The whole notion of having an unlimited number of authorizers – the mayor, any nonprofit in the state, each authorizing authority to charter unlimited number of schools, and each school authorized to expand to any enrollment – is a very odd concept in New Hampshire.”

The Department of Education and local school boards can authorize charters, with state officials handling the lion’s share of new applications, he said.

Duncan said New Hampshire policymakers support charters that supplement the needs of local districts. For instance, Littleton’s North Country Charter Academy reaches out to at-risk students, he said.

Moreover, he said the current system approves most applications, leaving little need to rewrite the policy.

Since the state Board of Education began approving charters in 2005, 28 schools have been approved and four closed.

The bill is currently retained in the House Education Committee.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402, tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_TinaF.

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