EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

October 18, 2012

Charter schools urge end of NH moratorium

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Nearly 100 charter school advocates packed the New Hampshire state Board of Education meeting yesterday to lobby members to lift the moratorium on approving new charter schools.

Supporters of 11 proposed charter schools told the board that withholding approval for three more months could jeopardize prospects of the schools opening in the fall of 2013 and their eligibility for federal grant money.

But Board Chairman Tom Raffio says the board cannot bind the new Legislature taking office in January to fund the proposed schools that have applications pending.

Raffio said education officials will be asking the governor and Executive Council later this month to approve an additional $4.4 million in funds to cover budget shortfalls for the existing 17 charter schools in fiscal 2013.

Wendie Leweck of Exeter, chairwoman of the Friends of the Seacoast High School for the Arts, asked the board to hear and approve the school’s application.

“We still intend and hope to open in 2013,” Leweck said. “But we have been put off time and time again.”

Raffio said it would cost an additional $8.9 million in 2013 to fund the 11 charter schools currently “in the pipeline.”

Sandra Tremblay, head of program development for the proposed Innovative Futures Technical Academy in Dover, told board members they were facing “a roomful of education innovators. Please don’t alienate us.”

Tremblay says her school would be open to any student in the state and she has parents from Berlin and Alton who have shown strong interest.

Raffio disputed the term “moratorium,” noting that the board would entertain applications from self-sustaining schools that did not seek the $5,450 the state provides annually for each charter school student.

“It’s not a moratorium,” Raffio said. “We’ve just denied pending applications.” He did not dissuade advocates from repeatedly referring to the moratorium.

Eileen Liponis, executive director of the New Hampshire Public Charter School Association, said there are currently more than 2,500 students attending charter schools in New Hampshire and those schools employ 300 people. She challenged the board’s assertion it could not bind the new legislation when it had done just that by approving a new charter school in Derry several months ago.

Education officials acknowledged that the new alternative high school would have to be funded next year, but stressed it’s a small charter with plans for 20-30 students.

“Thank you all for your passion,” Raffio said at the close of the 90-minute hearing at the state Department of Education headquarters.

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