Charter schools are public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. Charter schools are independent, tuition free to in state students and highly accountable. Charter schools are operated in accordance to a specific mission or "charter". The "charter" establishing each school is a performance contract detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success.
According to a report published by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (March 2018), there are approximately 7,000 charter schools operating in the United States. Together, these public schools serve about 6% of the U.S. public school population. New Hampshire currently has 24 operating charter schools. Together these public schools serve approximately 2% of all public school pupils in New Hampshire.
Charters are granted for a period of 5 years in New Hampshire. In its forth year of operation a public charter school must notify its authorizing entity (State Board of Education or Local District) of its intention to apply for renewal. Charter schools are accountable to their authorizing entity to produce positive academic results and adhere to their charter contract. The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for this greater accountability. They are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to several groups: the authorizing entity that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them.
What is the difference between a charter school and a traditional public school?
Charter schools are public schools of choice, meaning teachers and students choose them. They operate with freedom from many regulations that apply to traditional public schools. They generally offer teachers and students greater flexibility to make decisions than traditional public schools. Instead of being accountable for compliance with an increasing litany of rules and regulations, they are accountable for academic results and for upholding their charter.
Who may authorize a charter school to open in New Hampshire?
New Hampshire has two types of charter school authorizers, (State & Local). There are important differences between the two types of charter school authorization. Groups should understand these differences prior to moving forward with any application.
1. Local Authorization - This process is used when a town or local district wishes to open a public charter school within the resident district. This avenue affords the town and/or district more control over the charter school. The charter must be reviewed by the State Board of Education however the final act of authorization (or denial), does not occur until after the local legislative body makes its determination of whether to approve or deny the request.
In "towns" the local legislative body is usually the voter and authorization would occur using the warrant article process. In "cities" the local legislative body is typically a town council and this body would approve or deny the request to open a charter school. (RSA 194-B:3)
2. State Board of Education - Using this approach, the charter school applicant applies directly to the New Hampshire State Board of Education for authorization to open a public charter school. This process takes about one year to complete and authorization only occurs after the State Board of Education has voted to approve the charter school application. Applications to open a state authorized charter school may be submitted or "sponsored" by local teachers, groups of parents or non-profit entities. (RSA194-B:3a)
Important differences to consider between state and local authorization
There are important differences between the statutory requirements of state authorized charter schools and locally authorized charter schools. (this is not a complete list)
- State authorized charter schools are funded directly by the state and do not receive local taxpayer support (RSA 194-B:11 I.(b)(1)(a));
- Locally authorized charters schools receive funding from both the state and the district
(RSA 194-B:11 I.(1)(a));
- State authorized charter schools must accept all students that apply and they are prohibited from giving local students preference (if more students apply than the charter can serve, it must hold a blind lottery);
- Unlike state authorized charter schools, locally authorized charter schools may give absolute enrollment preference to in-district students (RSA 194-B:2 IV)
- State authorized charter schools are governed by an independent board of trustees and not a local school board;
- Unlike state authorized charter schools, locally authorized charter schools may reserve up to 25% of board seats for local school board members. (RSA 194-B:5 II)
Who can apply to open a State Authorized charter school?
1. a nonprofit organization including, but not limited to, a college, university, museum, service club, or similar entity;
2. a group of 2 or more New Hampshire certified teachers;
3. a group of 10 or more parents.
All applications to open a state authorized charter school must be reviewed and approved by a vote of the State Board of Education.
Who can apply to open a Locally Authorized charter school?
1. This is generally a partnership between the local district, teachers and other stakeholders within the town or city. Groups generally consist of teachers, administrators, town officials and/or school board members. This group writes the charter which outlines the rights and responsibilities of both the district and the charter school.
The charter must be reviewed by the State Board of Education however the final act of authorization (or denial), does not occur until after the local legislative body makes its determination of whether to approve or deny the request. In "towns" the local legislative body is usually the voter and authorization would occur using warrant article process. In "cities" the local legislative body is typically a town council and this body would approve or deny the request to open a charter school.
Do charter schools take money from public schools?
Charter schools are public schools. When a child attends a charter school the state portion of adequacy aid (about $3,600 FY17) is sent directly to the charter school, local taxpayer dollars remain in the district and do not forward to the charter school. Because New Hampshire charter schools do not receive local tax dollars, the state legislature provides charter schools with an additional $3,036 per pupil FY17. Fiscally, charter schools have demonstrated greater efficiency.
Can charter schools charge tuition?
No, charter schools are public schools and tuition-free for residents of New Hampshire. Out-of-state students may be charged tuition. While there is no charge for tuition, charter schools (like all public schools) may charge small fees for specific services and support.
How are charter schools funded in New Hampshire?
State Authorized charter schools are funded directly by the state (no local funding) at approximately $7,100 per student. This is considerably less than the statewide average expenditure of $15,000-$16,000 per student. (RSA 194-B:11 I.(b)(1)(A))
Locally authorized charter schools are funded at approximately 80% of the average cost per pupil by their local district. Locally authorized charter schools receive state and local funds. (RSA 194-B:11 I.(a))
How many states have charter schools?
As of 2017, 44 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have passed charter school laws.
Do charter schools have admissions policies?
By law, charter schools must have a fair and open admissions process, conducting outreach and recruitment to all segments of the community they serve. When more students apply than can be accommodated, charter schools are required by state and federal law to use a lottery to randomly determine which students are accepted. The one caveat is in the case of a locally authorized charter school which the law allows to give absolute enrollment priority to in-district students. Most New Hampshire charter schools have waiting lists.
Is transportation provided for students?
No, transportation is provided only if students are coming from the school district in which the school is located and request it. Most charter schools help maintain a student directory of contact information so that parents can work out car pooling arrangements among themselves. Quite a few families do carpool.
What kind of federal support is there for charter schools?
Through the Public Charter Schools Program, the U.S. Department of Education offers grants to states, which then award sub-grants to individual schools to assist them in planning, design, and initial implementation of new charter schools. Dissemination grants are also available to successful charter schools with three or more years of experience. These grants are used to support activities through which they help other groups improve existing public schools by sharing successful practices. Charter schools are also eligible for funding under other federal programs.