NH can’t afford not to accept charter school grant

Rejecting the $46 million public charter school grant could cost taxpayers up to $178 million over the next 10 years, according to a new report from the New Hampshire Department of Education. Rejecting these funds would be a costly mistake that New Hampshire families cannot afford, fiscally or in terms of the opportunity for students and families who are looking to provide an educational environment that meets their needs.

The new in-depth study, developed as a result of the Join Legislative Fiscal Committee’s decision to vote down twice the highest charter school grant in the country of its kind, shows us many things. First, it shows a conservative savings estimate of $60 million to state and local taxpayers over the next decade if the grant is approved by the committee, with a range of savings, depending on assumptions and implementation timelines of up to $178 million.

These are real dollars that reduce our property taxes while giving students more choices among public schools.

Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut was able to secure this federal grant by showing the strength and effectiveness of our current public charter schools here in New Hampshire. Through his partnership and advocacy at the federal level, he was able to achieve what the no prior state leadership could, and we now have the largest grant of its kind at our disposal to improve education while saving precious taxpayer dollars.

As we all know, property taxes are the highest tax most residents of New Hampshire have to pay, and the majority of our property tax bill goes to education — one look at your property tax bill makes that clear. Every taxpayer should fully support innovative ways to improve education while decreasing costs. As our population ages, and our school enrollment falls, it is imperative to the long-term viability of our state’s economy to minimize and streamline costs.

Over the next 10 years, we also face a declining student population of between 26,000 and 48,000 students, according to the department’s estimates based on existing trends. This declining student population will wreak havoc on the cost modeling schools use now, regardless of whether or not the public charter school grant is adopted or not. If, according to the Fiscal Committee, losing 4,000 additional students to new charter schools would be tragically unaffordable — how will public schools deal with reductions in student populations of up to 12 times that number?

On the current trajectory, our public education cost modeling is unsustainable. Looking at the new report, a public charter school can educate a student effectively for less than half the amount of a traditional public school. It is through these innovative schools and other methods that New Hampshire can again start to find sustainability in education funding.

At the same time, we know that local public schools don’t work for every student. Forcing parents to keep their child locked into an educational environment that is failing a family is tragic. No parent should be forced to send their child to a school that isn’t working for them. It would be impossible to understate the importance of providing expanded education opportunities for up to 4,000 more Granite State students.

New Hampshire public charter schools are able to provide an education that meets the unique needs of individual students. These students more often than not outperform their traditional public school counterparts in most subject matters.

It’s time for the Fiscal Committee to see the light and approve this important grant, to support Granite State education and students. It’s time to focus on what’s best for the families of New Hampshire, not special interests.

Chris Maidment of Peterborough is a founding member of Granite Staters for Education Reform and father of two children.

Categories: Opinion