Future unclear after fiscal panel rejects portion of $46M federal charter school grant

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Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut is pictured at Friday’s meeting of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee meeting, issued a statement that he was “disappointed” in the vote. Photo/Paula Tracy

CONCORD, NH – A grant that would have meant $46 million in federal funds to help create new public charter schools across the state was in limbo Friday after the Democratically-controlled majority of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted to reject the first round of $10 million.

The vote along party lines was 7-3.

A packed hearing room at the Legislative Office Building in Concord included many children who are students at the state’s existing charter schools.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said he was “sickened” by the vote. In a news release, Sununu indicated it was the whole $46 million that was rejected. But a legislative spokesman confirmed the vote Friday was only on the first $10 million and it was unclear what that would mean for the grant or what would be the next step.

Sununu said Democrats must explain to every single student why they rejected this unprecedented grant.

“For a party that claims to care about public education, their actions today make clear that they will always stand with special interests over the well-being of our students,” Sununu said. “I would like to thank the hundreds of kids who made the trip to Concord today to advocate for what they believed in – the right thing to do is always worth fighting for.”

New Hampshire was awarded the largest grant in the country, with Alabama receiving the next largest amount at $25 million.

State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro speaks about allegations that Friday’s vote at the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee was political. Paula Tracy video.

Democrats argued that this grant would not help existing schools and only burden the future of the state’s education costs by creating new charter schools.

Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, chairman of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, said: “We need to support our existing traditional public schools and charter schools, work to reduce the 1,000 open enrollment spots and waiting lists at existing charter schools, and protect New Hampshire taxpayers.

“…New Hampshire charter schools are still working to recruit students and build their financial stability and our state as a whole is struggling to adequately fund public education — this is not the time to divert funds from those existing educational facilities,”  Wallner said.

State Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, argued that by taking the first $10 million of the $46 million grant, the state could avoid spending $30,000 on students who need individualized education programs in public schools and let the money go to a less expensive option where students find success in charter schools.

After the vote, he accused Democrats of playing politics with education and said they fulfilled their job to public teachers’ unions, who ostensibly oppose the continued expansion of public charter schools.

State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, called that comment “the lowest” and asserted that all who voted on the measure were doing so with the state’s best interest in mind.

Some Democrats said that if this were money to help existing charter schools the vote might have been different.

Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough, argued that the money would not be used to help existing charter schools which are now struggling financially and receive about 75 percent of their money from the federal government. He noted that at least one school has a tax lien.

There was a big turnout as members of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee met Friday at the Legislative Office Building about the $46 million grant that would have been for charter schools. Photo/Paula Tracy

Senate Republican Leader Chuck Morse, R-Salem, a member of the committee, said after the vote: “Increasing funding for an adequate education has not been an easy task, but when $46 million for education was offered by the federal government, and with more than 1,300 New Hampshire students on waiting lists for spots at charter schools, it is disappointing that some of my colleagues turned it down, jeopardizing the educational opportunities of these children.

“We as a legislature are better than this, but unfortunately today, politics got in the way of our children’s success,” Morse said.

Michael Facques of Amherst, who came to hear the vote, said he was disappointed by the vote.

Family Planning Funds Vote

The fiscal committee also voted along party lines to move forward with $3.2 million in family planning funds that were appropriated in the state budget.

Rep. Weyler called it an end-run around Title 10 or provisions that prohibit federal funds from being used for abortions. These funds, however, are not federal. They are state monies that will be able to be used for reproductive health.

State Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, Senate majority leader, said he was pleased by the 7-3 vote.

“I’m glad New Hampshire is finally moving forward with these critical family planning funds that will protect access to quality, affordable reproductive health care for thousands of women and men,” Feltes said.


Charter School Grant Vote reaction/full statements:

Governor Sununu statement

Today, after Democrats on the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted to REJECT $46 million in federal funds to benefit New Hampshire schools, including $10 million over this biennium alone, Governor Chris Sununu issued the following statement:

“I am sickened by today’s vote, and the democrats must explain to every single student why they rejected an unprecedented $46M grant for public schools,” said Governor Chris Sununu. “For a party that claims to care about public education, their actions today make clear that they will always stand with special interests over the wellbeing of our students. I would like to thank the hundreds of kids who made the trip to Concord today to advocate for what they believed in – the right thing to do is always worth fighting for.”

Note: There are currently over 1,300 New Hampshire students on waiting lists to get into public charter schools.  New Hampshire was awarded the largest grant in the Country, with Alabama receiving the next largest amount at $25 million. As the Union Leader reports, the $46 million grant would focus on “at-risk students and help extend the best practices that exist in high quality charter schools to all 28 [public charter schools] in the state.”


Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee statement

“The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted against accepting a federal grant that could have cost New Hampshire taxpayers millions and jeopardized the health and vitality of current public traditional schools and public charter schools by doubling the number of charter schools.  

 After the vote, Representative Mary Jane Wallner (D-Concord) and Senator Lou D’Allesandro (D-Manchester) released the following statements: 

“We need to support our existing traditional public schools and charter schools, work to reduce the 1,000 open enrollment spots and waiting lists at existing charter schools, and protect New Hampshire taxpayers. This grant does none of that—that’s why today the Fiscal Committee rejected this end run around the Legislature and around the budget process,” said Representative Mary Jane Wallner (D-Concord) who serves as Chair of the Joint Fiscal Committee. “New Hampshire charter schools are still working to recruit students and build their financial stability and our state as a whole is struggling to adequately fund public education—this is not the time to divert funds from those existing educational facilities.”

Fiscal Committee member Senator Lou D’Allesandro (D-Manchester) added, “There is no such thing as a free lunch. State law requires the Department of Education to seek every federal grant possible, but that doesn’t equate need or prudence. This federal grant would have cost the state of New Hampshire millions of dollars and jeopardized the future health and vitality of current traditional public schools and public charter schools.”


NH Senate Republicans statement

Today, Democrats on the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee unanimously rejected an agenda item to accept and expend $46 million for public charter schools in New Hampshire. Senate Republican Leader Chuck Morse (R-Salem) issued the following statement:

“Rejecting $46 million in education funding from Washington puts New Hampshire students at a disadvantage,” said Senate Republican Leader Chuck Morse (R-Salem). “Increasing funding for an adequate education has not been an easy task, but when $46 million for education was offered by the federal government, and with more than 1,300 New Hampshire students on waiting lists for spots at charter schools, it is disappointing that some of my colleagues turned it down, jeopardizing the educational opportunities of these children.”

“We as a legislature are better than this, but unfortunately today, politics got in the way of our children’s success,” Morse added.

After the vote, Governor Sununu stated that he was “sickened by the vote” and that the Democrats “must explain to every single student why they rejected an unprecedented $46M grant for public schools.” We couldn’t agree more.


Commissioner Edelblut statement

“I am extremely disappointed that partisan politics prevailed today, at the expense of New Hampshire public schools.

Students choose public charter schools because they are going ‘to’ something, or are moving ‘from’ something. When they go to something, it is because the want to pursue an interest, such a STEM, or the arts, or project-based learning. When they come from something, they are leaving an environment where they have not seen success, or they have been bullied.

Families of means can make these choices any time they want. This grant was meant to give economically-disadvantaged students and at-risk students those same choices. I am disappointed that partisanship on the part of the Fiscal Committee continues to block this grant. If you care about children and if you care about New Hampshire taxpayers, you would approve this grant.”