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Lawmaker to N.H. Board: Lift the Charter School Moratorium

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The chairman of New Hampshire's House Education Committee has written to the state board of education, asking the panel to lift a moratorium on new charter schools and begin reviewing applications again.

But don't expect the board to rush to act on that request.

The state board's chairman, Tom Raffio, told Education Week that it is legally obligated to keep the moratorium in place until the legislature provides an initial shot of funding—between $4.4 million and $5.3 million—to cover a shortfall in fiscal 2013 funding for charters already approved by the state.

In his letter, state Rep. Michael Balboni, a Republican, says the state board has the authority to "accept and review new charter school applications in their entirety," with the understanding that any approvals will be contingent on the state providing funding.

The state board has said it will request that a joint fiscal legislative committee approve funding to cover approved charter schools later this month. Only once that action is taken, Raffio says, would the board begin approving new charter school applications next month.

But that timeline does not satisfy Balboni, who, in an email to Education Week, voiced worries that the holdup would prevent charter school applicants from opening new schools in the fall of 2013—and potentially cost those schools access to federal charter school aid.

Raffio, however, says lawmakers need to step up first. In addition to the roughly $5 million in funding for the approved charters schools, the state board needs the legislature to agree to provide a much larger amount—up to $25.6 million—in fiscal 2014 to cover the costs of current charters, based on their growing enrollments, and future ones that could be approved.

The state board chairman referred Education Week to a letter from New Hampshire's attorney general's office to Balboni, which Raffio sees as backing up the board's position. The attorney general's office says the board has not a "moratorium," but rather a board decision based on a proper reading of New Hampshire law.

"The state board denied the current applications because as it lacks the legal authority to grant [them] and bind the state to expend funds that have not yet been appropriated," the attorney general's office wrote.

So it doesn't appear a break in this charter school stalemate is by any means imminent.

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