Wednesday, September 25, 2019

NH: Failing To Learn From Charter History

I have a soft spot in my heart for New Hampshire. I was born there, and much of my family lived there. My grandmother was a legislator for ages, and many of my relatives are still in the state.

So it's a bummer to see the state fall into reformy mistakes.

Earlier this year, the state announced that they were going to grab some of that free federal money to embark n a five-year mission to seek new charter schools and boldly repeat mistakes where many have gone before. The state intends to double the number of charter schools by adding about 27 new charters to the 28 current one.

Also, this iconic scene no longer exists.
The state is getting $46 million in federal taxpayer money specifically to help with charter start-up costs. It's an interesting stance for a heavily GOP state; consider the website for Live Free And Start "an initiative of the NH Tech Alliance, is working to make New Hampshire an even better place for innovative businesses to start, grow and succeed." They have lots of ideas about how to fund you new business; none of them are "hit the federal government for some bucks." The federal grant program is certainly not the only government grant program for starting a business, but it's an odd thing for free-market sink-or-swim conservatives to support.

What makes it even worse to support is the amount of money in this business tart-up fund that has been flushed away. I'll refer you, once again, to the report from the Network for Public Education that lays out how many many many many millions of taxpayer dollars that have been wasted on charter schools that closed quickly or, in the worst cases, never even opened. I suppose the state can take the  position that the money being wasted on't be theirs. But coverage raises the usual  question of just how much free market dynamics really truly play into charter schools. Here's one charter operator making an observation:

“It is impossible to start a charter school if you don’t have those federal start-up funds," she said. "At the end of the day, you need to find a space for your school, you need to populate it with furniture and materials, you maybe need to do a renovations on the space, and when you sign a lease, you have to put money down on that lease.”

How is this different from any other business? If you don't have enough money to open a business, the market says you either borrow the money or you go home, because if you don't have enough money to open the business, you don't open the business.

NH has an additional problem; the state department of education has one person responsible for overseeing the charter school sector. That does not seem destined for success. But the DOE is a big fan of charters, though they don't offer much compelling support. Here's DOE Commissioner Frank Edelblut, a venture capitalist who got the job as part of some political horse trading and who likes a variety of privatizing ideas. Edelblut has no background in education other than profiting from it, so he's reduced to reform boilerplate when lauding the grant:

New Hampshire charter schools have not only provided excellent educations for Granite State students, but provided a model for innovation and education improvement for the nation. Every kid deserves an educational environment in which they can thrive. Charter schools provide a valuable alternative for students who need one.

Oh, baloney. Name one "innovation" that has come out of a New Hampshire charter and spread through the education world. Explain what kind of alternative these schools provide other than an alternative method of shuttling public tax dollars to private businesses.

And as history tells us, many of these mighty engines of imaginary innovation will suck up tax dollars and then fail to ever educate a single person. Not sure the Granite State will really benefit from that.

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