A new report finds the state’s 24 charter schools face significant challenges in accessing and acquiring state funding for facilities. The report, “An Analysis of the Charter School Facility Landscape in New Hampshire,” is part of a larger national project, the Charter School Facilities Initiative, which aims to encourage public policy changes that the organization says will lead to an equitable facilities system.
The state does not provide per pupil facilities assistance to the 24 charter schools nor state funding for major capital improvements. Because most charter schools are housed in buildings that were not originally intended to be schools, the median spending on major capital improvements during the past five years in NH is about $238,000.
Matt Southerton, president of the NH Alliance for Public Charter Schools, says the report highlights the need for NH charter schools to gain access to unused district space or to be allowed to finance a proper facility in order to control their long-term costs and allocate more of their limited operating dollars to teachers, programs and students.
While district facilities are a more cost-effective option, NH charter schools have limited access to space in vacant or underused district facilities. Only four NH charter schools were in district-owned school facilities in 2016-17. However, 70 percent indicated that they would be willing to co-locate with a traditional public school if space was offered.
Southerton says there are two proposals before the state legislature to try to address this, including HB 1228.
“Current law prohibits public charter schools from incurring long-term debt in their early years of operation,” Southerton explains. “This has the result of pushing charter schools into rental and lease agreements.”
HB 1228 would remove the limitation and allow charter schools to finance long-term loans in order to secure facility space, Southerton says.
It would have the added benefit of making NH charter schools eligible to participate in a U.S. Dept. of Education program that essentially provides loan guarantees for charter schools in order to finance space of their own, he says.
The second measure under consideration relates to empty school buildings. Should a school district decide that it wants to rent or lease out an empty building, the measure under consideration would give charters schools the “Right of First Refusal” to rent or lease the property at or below fair-market value.
Southerton says it is an “exciting proposition” for those that would rather see charter schools spend their limited operating budgets on programs and teachers than on instructional space.
The complete report can be viewed at charterschoolcenter.ed.gov/publication/analysis-charter-school-facility-landscape-new-hampshire.