N.H. must fund charter schools
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both support change in the country’s public school systems, be it reassessment of how schools improve or an entire restructuring of the school system. They support growth of venues like charter schools and magnet schools. In fact, leading Democrats have always supported innovation in education. Today, that means choice—new alternatives for students. In 2007, Clinton spoke to the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly, telling them she has “always supported public school choice.” Obama has also consistently advocated for charter schools. Long before his run for president, he was a strong proponent of school choice — a stance he continues to maintain. Democratic leaders across the country generally agree: Charter schools successfully serve a segment of the student population that has previously struggled to thrive in traditional public school environments. But what about our own state? In New Hampshire, Democratic Senator Larsen’s comments have not been supportive of the open enrollment charter school — and the fate of these schools will be decided this legislative session. Allowing grossly inadequate funding to continue and additionally providing no access to facility funding will prevent our state’s charter school program from surviving. She’s recently quoted as saying the Democratically controlled Senate will not approve spending on our charter schools. These schools are in crisis. The three-year period of federal start-up funds is past, and, thus far, the Legislature has not provided charter schools with the same enhancement aid poorer schools receive—funds which are imperative for our charter schools to continue to serve their students. It is not an exaggeration to say that the fate of New Hampshire’s charter schools hangs on our senators’ decision to allot fair, permanent state funding. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted their bipartisan support. Students in the poorest district public schools receive nearly two times the state aid that charter schools received this year. It just doesn’t make sense to discriminate against a minority of children simply because they learn differently or thrive in a differently-structured classroom or school. At its February 2008 meeting, New Hampshire’s state Board of Education voted to urge the Legislature to fund the state-authorized chartered public schools. Even so, Larsen’s comments signal that she will not encourage Democratic support, and these schools will be denied sustainable funding. This, then, will create discord between what our Board of Education deems best for students and charter schools, and what the Democratic leadership wants for political policy. Approximately 400 students now attend New Hampshire’s chartered public schools. Demand for entrance into the schools has increased exponentially, but the schools are at a crossroads — not having a reliable funding system they can count on from year to year. With long waiting lists and thriving students, why would our legislators even question not including these schools in our targeted aid system — especially when the charter schools have proven themselves successful? Charter schools can increase the educational growth of their students at almost half the cost of traditional public schools — surely they should continue. Imagine what can be attained when charter school directors are not spending half their time and energy pleading for fair funding. Now is the time to save New Hampshire’s charter schools from extinction. Our state needs a fair and sustainable state funding policy for these authorized schools. Susan Hollins is founder and director of the New Hampshire Center for School Reform, Concord.