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Funding Fix For Charters Headed Toward Finish Line

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The New Hampshire House of Representatives has passed a bill that would end what has been called a moratorium on new charter schools. The bill still has a way to go before it is law, but charters in the pipeline could still open in time for next school year.

With a unanimous voice vote, the House passed a proposal that allows the Board of Education to approve new charter schools, regardless of whether there is money in the state budget for them. Chairman of the Board of Ed, Tom Raffio says, the change will allow the board to approve charters even in years when the budget has yet to be passed. 

The change reverts to the way that charters were funded prior to 2011, when a funding tweak caused the Board of Ed to run afoul of constitutional concerns. According to the Attorney General's office, under the current system if the board approves a charter school before a budget has been passed that funds that school, the board is effectively forcing budget writers to fund something. This so-called "binding" of the legislature is unconstitutional. 

While the bill must still make it through the House finance committee and pass another floor vote, before heading to Senate and the governor, today's vote was an important gauge of the popularity of the measure. "Until this is official law we're not going to entertain any applications," said Raffio in a phone interview, "and that would be the only fiscally prudent thing to do." 

Raffio says the board will work with charters on their applications so that they will be ready as soon as the so-called moratorium is lifted. Several schools with particularly "ripe" applications include the Gate City school in Nashua the Mountain Village school in Plymouth, and the Seacoast Charter High School in Brentwood.

Note: A previous version of this story did not mention that the bill would need to pass through the finance committee, and a second vote on the House floor before moving to the Senate.

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