By Doug Ireland
---- — Lawmakers are considering a proposal that offers hope for charter schools struggling to fund an alternative education for New Hampshire students.
Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, appeared before the House Education Committee in Concord yesterday to outline his bill that would provide an additional $1,100 per charter school pupil.
House Bill 435 comes in the wake of a statewide moratorium on the acceptance of applications for new charter schools because of a lack of funding.
But state Board of Education Chairman Thomas Raffio said the 17 operating charter schools and an 18th school, which will open in Derry this fall, will continue to receive funding.
There are several other proposed charter schools, but no applications will be accepted unless the state can come up with an additional $1.8 million, he said.
Before yesterday's hearing, Weyler said he will do what he can to help charter schools, saying they offer parents the option of deciding what is the best education for their children.
"It gives them choice," he said. "I don't think they are adequately funded and I'm trying to do something about it."
Charter schools tend to offer a smaller, more hands-on educational environment than traditional public schools. They also often provide a specialty, such as a focus on the arts or science."
"That's the sort of thing I want to encourage," Weyler said.
He hopes his colleagues in the Legislature feel the same away.
Weyler said his bill, if passed, would provide a substantial boost to charter schools having a tough time making ends meet.
Although considered public schools, charter schools are not fully funded by the state. The schools must pay for the remainder by charging families tuition and holding fundraisers to make up the difference.
Weyler said charter schools receive just under $5,500 per student, but the statewide cost per pupil is slightly more than $13,000.
No one who spoke at yesterday's hearing opposed the bill, according to committee Chairman Mary Gile, D-Concord. She said the committee will not make a recommendation on the bill until next week.
Those who spoke included New Hampshire School Administrators Association executive director Mark Joyce, Surry Village School director Matora Fiorey and Bill Duncan of Advancing New Hampshire Public Education.
Also testifying before the committee was Eileen Liponis, executive director of the New Hampshire Public Charter School Association.
Liponis said the state is behind the rest of the nation in funding charter schools. New Hampshire's charter schools receive only 41 percent of the state average of $13,159 spent on public school students. That compares to 80 percent nationally, she said.
Weyler said his goal is to fund charter schools at 50 percent of the average cost per pupil.
There are two charter schools operating in Southern New Hampshire — Seacoast Charter School in Kingston and The Birches Academy of Academics and Art in Salem. Next charter school, an alternative high school, opens in Derry next fall.
Leaders of the schools said yesterday they hope the bill passes, saying it would provide a significant boost.
"It's absolutely critical," said Dael Angelico-Hart, head of school at The Birches. "Without the funding, we can't exist."
The school opened with 88 students in September and already 144 are expected to enroll next fall, she said.
She said time spent fundraising for The Birches could be better spent running the school.
Math textbooks purchased this year for $100 apiece will need to be replaced in the next few years to comply with new educational standards, she said.
Seacoast Charter School, which opened in 2004, is feeling the same financial pain, according to head of school Roberta Mantione.
"It's critical," she said of the bill. "It's huge for us."
She said the 260-student school is in dire need of additional computers to comply with new standards that will require computer-based testing in the next few years.
"We don't have the computers and the kids need to have the technology experience," Mantione said.
The school also wants to be able to retain its staff, she said.
"It's essential that we get some cost-of-living increases," Mantione said.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report