The impacts of the GOP legislative majority are already being felt as the newly-constituted Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee on Friday approved federal charter school grant money previously blocked by Democrats.

Meeting remotely via teleconference, the Committee voted 7-3 to accept the first tranch of the federal aid, $10.1 million. The proposal now heads to the Executive Council and Governor. The Council is expected to take up the grant on January 7, following the Governor’s third inauguration and the swearing of the council’s new 4-1 GOP majority.

“Today, commonsense prevailed and kids won,” Gov. Chris Sununu said after the vote.”For two years, hundreds of kids have advocated for what they believe in and their hard work has paid off. Charter schools are public schools and this game-changing grant will open up doors of opportunity for children across the state.”

Since October 2019, the grant had been denied, tabled, or otherwise postponed every month by the Democrat majorities on the Fiscal Committee. During a visit to New Hampshire in September, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told NHJournal she didn’t know of any other state, red or blue, that had rejected these funds. And no Granite Staters can recall New Hampshire ever rejecting federal education funds in the past.

“It’s a great thing that we can get this money from the federal government and help those students succeed educationally,” state Senator and Vice Chairman of the Joint Fiscal Committee Gary Daniels told NHJournal. “We need to focus on what this money can bring at-risk students in terms of opportunities.”

“This program expands opportunities for all students, particularly traditionally underserved students,” the Department’s application for the grant says. The application lists that the top priority of the grant is to “increase, expand, or replicate the number of high-quality charter schools, especially those aiding at-risk, educationally disadvantaged students in rural and urban settings.”

Assuming the Biden administration doesn’t end the funding, the remaining portion of the $46 million charter grant will be worked into the budget for the next two bienniums.

The Democrats objected to the grant since its application citing that this grant, and the charter schools created by it, could cost traditional public schools over $17 million.

“Supporting our existing charter schools and their students is, and always has been, a bipartisan priority,” Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) said in a statement. “This grant does not support existing charter school students or operations and leaves New Hampshire property taxpayers responsible for filling a $17 million gap in state funding. Our efforts should be focused on helping our existing public schools and public charter schools who have been significantly impacted by the financial and administrative burden of COVID-19, not increasing taxes for our homeowners, renters, and small businesses during a period of mass financial instability.”  

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut disagrees.

“There will be savings to taxpayers of a significant magnitude,” he said, noting a report conducted by the state’s Department of Education showing savings to taxpayers of at least $62 million with the expansion of charter schools pursuant to the terms of this grant.

“Opponents of public charter schools pit them against traditional school districts. In fact, these start-up funds will be available to local school districts to find new ways to teach at-risk students using the flexibility and innovation of the charter school model,” Edelblut added.

“The purpose of this grant is to find new opportunities for students who are not thriving in a traditional school setting. Expanding on our success with public charter schools would open up new paths for at-risk students, and provide tremendous cost savings for state and local taxpayers.”

The public charter school funding also received the endorsement of the state chapter of Americans For Prosperity.

“For too long, legislators refused to extend educational resources for Granite State students,” said AFP-NH Deputy Director of Grassroots Operations Sarah Scott. “This grant will help students and families have access to an education that works for them. The pandemic demonstrated our current, one-size-fits-all system is too rigid and inflexible to allow every kid to discover, develop, and apply their unique talents. We commend legislators for approving this grant, and we urge them to continue working to expand educational opportunity so every family and student can have a more personalized education regardless of their income or ZIP code.”

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