By Doug Ireland
---- — Only a day after the new legislative session began, charter school advocates said yesterday they were pleased the House of Representatives gave preliminary approval to more funding for the schools.
The House voted, 177-124, in favor of House Bill 435, which would provide an additional $1,000 per student at each of the state’s 17 charter schools, according to Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston.
Weyler, the bill’s sponsor, said the approval granted by the House on Wednesday is a positive first step toward providing the money the schools need to thrive.
“I was delighted,” he said. “It’s always a struggle to get money for the charter schools.”
The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee for review before a final vote is taken by the House, but Weyler said he doesn’t foresee any major obstacles. Charter schools are public schools that provide students with a specialized education, including the arts or math and science.
The New Hampshire Department of Education currently provides $5,498 for the education of each charter school student in the state, compared to about $3,450 for other public school students.
Charter schools must come up with the remainder of the approximately $13,695 needed to fund the state’s average cost per pupil, Weyler said. Traditional public schools rely on property taxes to foot the rest of the cost.
HB 435 changes the funding mechanism for charter schools. It would guarantee that the state fund 50 percent of the average cost per pupil as determined by the Department of Education.
Funding for charter schools is presently based on the state’s adequate education funding formula. The schools are also allocated an additional $2,000 per student. Weyler said there’s an additional $4 million in unspent money for charter schools that would be included in HB 435.
Although the funding must still receive final approval, charter school administrators in Southern New Hampshire said they have been closely following the legislation and were pleased with the vote.
“The state funding increase would be crucial for us,” said Dael Angelico-Hart, head of school at The Birches Academy of Academics and Art in Salem.
Angelico-Hart said The Birches, like other charter schools in New Hampshire, is having a tough time funding operations, despite expanding enrollment. The state needs to provide more funding for charter schools, she said.
Charter schools only receive about 40 percent of what other public schools receive in state and local government funding, she said.
“It’s almost impossible funding at 40 percent,” Angelico-Hart said.
She said she’s looking at ways to raise money for the school, funded through student tuition and community donations.
“We can’t afford to buy all the supplies we need,” she said.
The Birches is one of three charter schools operating in Southern New Hampshire. The others are Seacoast Charter School in Kingston and Next Charter School in Derry.
Officials planning for the opening of two new charter schools this fall said they were pleased to hear of the positive outcome in the House. The schools are Granite State Arts Academy in Derry and The Founders Academy in Londonderry.
“It’s a good start and we will take every bit of help we can get,” said Wendie Leweck, chairman of Granite State Arts Academy.
The high school, located on Route 111, would provide an arts-oriented education for up to 160 students. The Founders Academy would provide a classical education, deeply rooted in morals and ethics, to 100 middle school students when it opens this fall, administrator Thomas Frischknecht said.
“It is going to be extremely beneficial,” he said of the funding. “We can provide students with a much greater experience because of it.”
The vote to fund the schools was also praised by the House Republican Alliance, including Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry.
“This is a win-win for the charter school students who have been grossly underfunded for years,” he said in a statement.
Although the bill was supported by most local lawmakers, Rep. Mary Till, D-Derry, said the legislation has flaws.
“It is a simple answer to a complex problem,” Till said.
She said she supports a charter school education, but said the bill doesn’t provide enough guarantees that charter schools will receive sufficient funding in future years.