When New Hampshire Commissioner of Education Frank Edulblut asks the Fiscal Committee on Friday to reverse their opposition to a $46 million federal education grant, he’s bringing a letter of endorsement from a surprising source:
Supporters of public charter schools and New Hampshire parents who want their children to have access to them were stunned when the Democratic majority on the Fiscal Committee rejected the federal education grant –the first time such federal ed funding has ever been turned down by the state. Democrats argued that using federal money to expand public charter schools will take away funding for traditional public schools in the future.
However, in 2016, then-Governor Maggie Hassan sent a letter to the Department of Education urging support for a charter school grant very similar to the one her fellow Democrats now reject.
“I am writing in support of the New Hampshire Department of Education’s application for the U.S. Department of Education’s, Charter School Programs Grant for State Educational Agencies,” Hassan wrote. “Charter schools create an opportunity to provide access to an educational experience that students may not have otherwise.”
“I support the New Hampshire Department of Education’s application… and I ask that you look favorably on this proposal. Thank you for your consideration,” Hassan concluded.
Would-be Democratic governor Dan Feltes opposes the $46 million the state has been granted — but Democrats are refusing to take — because of future financial burdens. “It puts New Hampshire taxpayers on the hook for tens of millions. Just not fiscally responsible,” he told NHJournal.
However, Democrats didn’t object to the grant request made by the Hassan administration three years ago, despite the fact it included more aggressive expansion plans than the current grant. Hassan’s Ed Department proposed 15 additional schools over three years compared to the current grant which proposes 20 additional schools over five years.
New Hampshire’s charter school grant was the largest in the country, with Alabama next in line at $25 million.
According to Edelblut, “more than 3,800 students attend public charter schools in New Hampshire, with a waiting list of more than 1,300. Children and parents across our state are clamoring for charter school options, but we lack the capacity, often because start-up costs are an insurmountable hurdle. That is why the New Hampshire Department of Education sought and won the $46 million grant to expand public charter school options.”
In a statement on Thursday, Edelbut added: “Charter schools have become a highly partisan issue nationally as candidates stake out positons well outside of the norm and contradictory to our form of constitutional government. My hope is that these attitudes have not seeped down to our local elected officials.
“It was only a few short years ago that a Democratic Governor sought federal funds to expand public charter schools in New Hampshire. This Legislature can restore bipartisan support for at-risk kids.”