A group of lawmakers is asking the New Hampshire Department of Education to respond to its concerns about a $46 million federal grant to expand public charter schools, before deciding whether to accept it.
The pending charter expansion grant - the largest earmarked for any state - aims to double the number of charter schools in New Hampshire over the next five years. It is currently on hold, after Democrats on the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee cited concerns that building more charter schools would lead to unanticipated costs for the state and harm existing, non-charter public schools.
Governor Chris Sununu criticized the hold, calling the money a "game-changing grant [that] would have cost New Hampshire taxpayers nothing."
But an analysis by the public education non-profit Reaching Higher estimated that, because charter schools are typically funded by the state rather than local districts, the state's plan to expand charters with this grant money could cost the state over $100 million in the next ten years.
In a letter to the DOE received on Monday, Fiscal Committee members submitted nearly 90 questions. Many focus on future costs to the state budget for the expansion. Others ask for basic information on how charter schools work, while others request a detailed report on the history and demographics of the student body in every existing charter school, as well as their audited financial reports and special education costs.
Ealier this month, Governor Sununu and DOE Commissioner Frank Edelblut criticized the Fiscal Committee’s delay in accepting the funds, but chairwoman and Democratic Rep. Mary Jane Wallner says it’s common for the committee to ask an agency for more information before approving funds.
“This gave us the opportunity to answer some of our questions,” she said. “I’m sure if there are questions [the DOE] doesn't have information about, they would tell us that they don’t track those things."
The committee expects to discuss the additional information from the DOE and the fate of the federal grant at their meeting in December.