Improving Outcomes through Choice

August 2015

Alicia Humphrey

Summary: Despite a recent shift toward national control over education policy, New Hampshire has implemented a variety of measures designed to embrace localization and flexibility. Some of the policies that have arisen include a new learning model, raised teacher quality, promotion of charter schools, and a raised dropout age. Data shows that these state-based innovations emphasizing school choice have led to increased success for New Hampshire public schools as compared to the state under national mandates.

Americans have become accustomed to viewing public education through a national lens. In the past, most power was left to local schools and politicians. However, since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1950 and continuing to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Department of Education’s Race to the Top initiative of 2009, the federal government has taken and maintained increased control over schools through mandates, incentives, and funding. Although these initiatives represent sincere efforts to improve a struggling national public education system, the reality is that increased federal oversight often has the opposite effect by complicating matters with complex rules and regulations.

Once given the opportunity by President Barack Obama in 2013, New Hampshire, along with a majority of states, opted out of the unrealistic requirements of No Child Left Behind, leaving the state much freer to improve its education system on its own terms. New Hampshire has been quite successful in its attempts to reform due to a core recognition of the necessity of school choice and the rejection of a ‘one size fits all’ approach to education. To date, New Hampshire has quite successfully taken reformation of its public school system into its own hands through an innovative new learning model, raising teacher quality, promoting charter schools, and raising the dropout age, just to mention a few examples.

 

Student Focused Learning Models:

One of New Hampshire’s educational innovations is the new competency-based learning model.[1] Although this model exists in conjunction with the Common Core standards that largely govern what is taught, it certainly represents a move toward local flexibility and choice concerning how material is taught. In an unprecedented move amounting to nothing less than a complete revamp of the old learning system, New Hampshire has required statewide adoption of the competency-based model.

The change resulted from coordinated efforts including former Governor John Lynch, Former Education Commissioner Lyonel B. Tracy, and the State Board of Education in 2005. The new model replaces the traditional Carnegie Unit learning model based on passing versus failing letter grades. With the new model, learning will be based on competency broken up into individual objectives with mastery as the goal and time spent in the classroom as the variable instead of vice versa. The idea behind the new competency-based model is that it will remedy the Carnegie model’s lack of sensitivity to unique student needs due to its all-or-nothing approach to passing or failing a subject in a set amount of time.

 

Choices for Students:

The competency-based model is revolutionary in that it will allow students a choice to demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways and places other than standardized examinations in traditional classrooms—for example, through Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs), Learning Seminars, and Place-Based Learning projects. These options have arisen organically in various New Hampshire schools due to the policy’s flexibility and focus on local control rather than federal oversight. ELOs are student-initiated in that they do not replace traditional schooling, but simply allow for it to be sculpted around each student’s interests; for example, students in the past have chosen to study everything from genetically modified organisms in farms in their communities to glassmaking and jewelry design in conjunction with their regular coursework.

Some schools have allowed students to participate in Learning Seminars for an entire year, in which they pursue and research a project of their choice centered on a problem they want to solve. Place-Based Learning projects are similar to Learning Seminars, but emphasize the importance of problem solving in the student’s specific community. Countless other opportunities like these have appeared in New Hampshire schools, most finding success due to their goal of individualizing and personalizing education for students through the more flexible and locally oriented competency model, which emphasizes choice over a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

 

Choice for Local School Districts:

It is not only students that have an increased choice now, but school districts as well; as of the 2008-2009 school year, districts in the state can choose to use the state’s competency models for English/Language Arts, Math, Science, and Work Practices (soon to include Arts and Social Studies), but these districts have the freedom to opt to design a more individualized one if they so choose. With this flexibility comes the freedom to change slowly; some schools have remained loyal to the more traditional, time-based practices of the Carnegie model, such as Oyster River High School in Durham. However, many more have been quick to adapt by creating unique opportunities for students to move at a more flexible and personalized pace, such as Milan Village Elementary School in Milan and North Country Charter Academy in Littleton and Lancaster.[2] Despite the risks that accompany these localized policies, the huge changes and successes under the competency model were made possible by the freedom, flexibility, and choice granted to schools to create programs to help students in very different communities and situations as opposed to more stifling national mandates.

Ensuring Teacher Quality:

This new learning model means little without excellent teachers to implement it; in response, the state has taken a variety of measures drawn to raise teacher quality. The state has created only five alternative certification routes other than the traditional method of certification at an undergraduate university or college: Alternative One requires a program of professional preparation in education along with a chairperson recommendation, Alternative Two is open for certified teachers from other states, Alternative Three requires a written exam and oral review, Alternative Four requires superintendent recruitment for teaching in high-need areas, and Alternative Five is an on-the-job training option that nevertheless requires a Bachelor’s degree.[3] This policy choice is compared to that of many other states, which often offer nearly double those alternative options with much looser requirements. For example, Kentucky has eight, including one which allows certification for anyone who has simply served in the armed forces for at least six years and holds a Bachelor’s degree in the subject area he or she wishes to teach with only a 2.5 GPA upon graduation.[4]

Although New Hampshire’s choice in policy may sound like a discouragement to many hopeful teachers-to-be, the unfortunate reality is that these alternative routes are just that: alternative. They often encourage lesser trained teachers to enter the profession as soon as possible, focusing on adults’ convenience instead of what is best for students. New Hampshire tackles this delicate issue by making the programs available for aspiring teachers who may not fit into the traditional mold, but simultaneously not overly plentiful and easy to complete. It is precisely the state’s ability to adopt these alternative certification methods

differing than those of many other states that has led to increased success in recruiting excellent teachers.

The more stringent method to becoming a teacher has had many benefits, one of those being a high level availability of excellent certified teachers; the 12.2 to 1 student-to-teacher ratio is one of the nation’s best and is extremely conducive to individualized attention and therefore improved learning and mastery for students inside the classroom. The financial benefit of teaching explains this in part; New Hampshire teachers make an average of about $50,245 a year or 117% of the state’s average income (an average of $3,900 more for those with Master’s degrees), making the job more prestigious and worthwhile, therefore attracting the highest quality teachers.[5]

School Choice:

It is especially in charter schools this high teacher quality is the easiest to see. These schools free of the bureaucratic red tape so common in the traditional public sphere—translating to increased teacher freedom in the classroom—have been shown to attract the best and brightest teachers from more prestigious and selective colleges, more so than in non-charter schools.[6] Furthermore, as charter schools possess less strict regulations concerning hiring practices as compared to traditional public schools, administrators have the ability to use their judgement to choose the best teachers for their individual schools and students. Largely because of these differences that allow for localized control and the flexibility to create schools that function best in unique communities, charter schools have been shown to be generally more effective than traditional public schools. Despite this success, spending per student for charter schools remains at a 40% of the money spent on traditional public schools.[7] In order to truly promote a culture of school choice, it is imperative to continue to increase funding to charters and responsibly reduce the accreditation burden for the schools in order to continue this success.

Addressing Dropout Rates:

These developments again are meaningless unless students are habitually present in the classroom. In 2008, New Hampshire increased its state dropout age to 18 from the more nationally common 16. Although dropout rates were already on the decline in New Hampshire, only one year after this simple yet effective legislation, dropout rate began to plummet at a more rapid rate.[8] This trend of notable decrease post-legislation remains despite two different formulas used to calculate dropout rates in New Hampshire in the 2000s. [9]

Even with the exception of the only dropout rate rise in the past ten years occurring in 2011, the rate during that year is still the second lowest the state has ever seen.[10] With fewer students dropping out, New Hampshire saw an increase in graduation rates. In 2010, the state’s graduation rate was at 86.3%, ranking in the top nine of all U.S. states, compared to the national average of 78.2%.

DropoutRates

 

Two years later, dropout rate was 1.26% compared to the national average of 7%.[11] It is no wonder that the state’s many innovations have been effective with a nearly complete student body present, passing, and eventually graduating from high school at one of the highest rates in the country. The state’s willingness and ability to stray from the norm and create policies that work for its students instead of adhering to the national status quo has created one of the most successful public education systems in the country.

Though it is difficult to entirely attribute the state’s success to the specific programs and initiatives previously described, it is impossible to deny the success of New Hampshire’s recent education policies as a whole; in 2013, the average eighth grade NAEP reading score was eight points above the national average and the math average was up by twelve, the average SAT score of students graduating high school was 1567 compared to the national average of 1498, and the four-year college graduation rate was 62% compared to the national average of 39%.[12]

Conclusion:

As New Hampshire has implemented countless creative education policies in the past few years that have led to these impressive results, the state has found that true success couples this progressive thinking with a focus on local authority over the schools and students they know best. Taking a lesson from the failed No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, New Hampshire’s initiatives have focused on grassroots feedback from students, teachers, and local leaders. State leaders have created truly effective and organic programs and policies centered on school choice as opposed to setting national goals with little flexibility or sensitivity to specific state needs. New Hampshire has demonstrated that although the ideas of innovation and localization may be construed to be opposites, in order to truly develop and advance, it is often necessary to embrace tradition.

 

Click here to download a pdf version of this paper


 

 

[1] New Hampshire Story of Transformation. New Hampshire Department of Education, 2014.

[2] Freeland, Julia. “From Policy to Practice: How Competency-based Education Is Evolving in New Hampshire.” Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, May 2014.

[3] Alternatives for Certification. New Hampshire Department of Education, 2012

[4] Education Professional Standards Board Certification Division – Alternative Route Option 5. Kentucky Department of Education, 2015

[5] New Hampshire Story of Transformation. New Hampshire Department of Education, 2014.

[6] Finne, Liv. “An Option for Learning: An Assessment of Student Achievement in Charter Public Schools” Washington Policy Center, Jan. 2011.

[7] New Hampshire Center for Innovative Schools, www.nhcharterschools.org/home/index.php/stats-charts-graphs

[8] Bosse, Grant. “NH Drop Out Rate not dropping as quickly as government claims”, New Hampshire Watchdog, 09 Mar. 2011

[9] Dropouts and Completers, Data Collection and Reports. New Hampshire Department of Education, 2012.

[10] Bosse, Grant. “NH Drop Out Rate Jumped in 2011.”. New Hampshire Watchdog

[11] New Hampshire Story of Transformation. New Hampshire Department of Education, 2014.

[12] New Hampshire Story of Transformation. New Hampshire Department of Education, 2014.

Charlie Arlinghaus

May 27, 2015

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Oddly, State Senators who claim to be supportive of charter schools are doing their best to destroy them. Perhaps charter schools would have been better off to have outright enemies in charge rather than pretend supporters whose token gestures will do more to close these alternative schools than active opposition would.

After years of apathy toward charter schools, the state Senate has signaled its intention to out-mediocre the House and offer these schools the most nominal of Band-Aids that will help the schools almost not at all but create the tiniest of fig leafs for a handful of politicians.

New Hampshire is one of 43 states that have charter schools, which are alternative public schools that charge no tuition and are open to all. The goal of this reform has always been to provide alternatives for students. No one school can possibly serve every single student assigned by zip code equally well.

These innovative alternatives have proven popular with students and parents alike. They serve as a small but valuable part of the public education system. About 2 percent of the 183,000 students in New Hampshire’s public system are enrolled in charter schools.

Charters are an alternative system, and it was always anticipated they would cost somewhat less than the traditional school. But that gap has grown and grown and grown. The Legislature has been promising for each of the last three or four budgets that something will be done to address the cost issue. When the charter school appropriation was set in 2008 at $5,450 per student, no one thought that amount would be stagnant for the next decade.

At the time, traditional public schools spent an average of $12,935 per student (according to the state Department of Education). Since then, spending at traditional public schools has increased to $17,233 in the current school year. In contrast, charter schools have languished at $5,450 — just 32 percent of the funding at the other public schools.

I was critical when the House passed a lackluster proposal to increase spending by just $36 and then an additional $1,000 two school years from now. I felt sure at the time that senators would regard the House action as lackluster too.Unfortunately, the Senate decided to double down on mediocrity. Most senators have known and have been willing to say publicly for the last five years that it was difficult and getting close to impossible for charter schools to exist on an amount that was well below operating costs seven years ago. Schools were misled to believe that if they could survive the drought that the obvious cost issue would be redressed this year. But as has happened so often in the past, the hope was futile. The Legislature is poised to do the moral equivalent of nothing.

Senators have kept the $36 increase in the budget for next year. I don’t think I’m the only one who regards the $36 as such a small amount as to resemble an inside joke, with budget writers snickering as they include it in the budget. They also lowered the second-year adjustment to $250.

Over the last seven years, traditional public schools have seen an increase of $4,298 per student. To adjust charter schools, senators propose $286, which they describe as very generous. Despite that, one senator was heard, quite nonsensically, to object to charter schools getting more money than traditional schools.

Senators know, though perhaps they don’t believe, that the average charter school finds that costs exceed revenue by between $2,000 and $2,500 per student. Without any deep investigation, that seems quite sensible. Even if funding were to increase by $2,000, charter schools would still spend less than half per student what traditional schools do.

While supporters have always claimed these educational alternatives would be cost effective, proponents never suggested they would make do with 30 cents on the dollar.

This is not, nor need it be, a partisan issue. The original bill was signed by Republican Gov. Craig Benson. As a state senator, current Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan took the first steps to address funding issues in 2008. Since then, no one kept up.

The state cannot pretend to have charter schools as a legitimate educational alternative and then give them an amount that does not come close to covering the cost of the program. If legislators don’t know how dismal current funding levels are, it is simply because they haven’t bothered to find out. If they do know, their token gesture is merely a not very well disguised attempt to see these schools go away.

Charlie Arlinghaus

May 20, 2015

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Recent college graduates and others trying to decide whether to commit to New Hampshire long term have every reason to leave and few to stay. I hope that by now it is universally accepted that New Hampshire’s prospects are, at best, mediocre. What seems increasingly likely is that those of us hoping for mediocrity are pie-eyed optimists. Things are bad and the state is losing pace. States don’t become backwaters actively. The rest of the world just passes by lackluster states while they go along pretending everything is fine. We’re pretending, doing little or nothing, and life is passing us by.

In the last week, the Pew Charitable Trust released data pointing out that recovery from the last recession is complete but robust in some states and pathetic in others. Guess which category we fall into?

Pew’s research service on state government policy Stateline found that “while all states have added jobs since their economies hit their nadir during the recession, some have added far fewer than others.” Pew went on to highlight ten states with anemic growth of 5% or less. In this group, which might well be dubbed the pathetic 10, is New Hampshire.

Consider a recent college graduate thinking about where to start his or her career. New Hampshire is a pleasant spot and has much to offer. But what is has little of and little hope for is job growth. Why on Earth would you start your career by shackling yourself to one of the pathetic 10 — the worst states in the country in which to hope to find a job?

The national average was growth of about 8%. But more likely, if you are just starting out, you want to go to one of the Top 15 states who all boast growth rates of at least 10%. Michigan’s growth rate of 11% is more than double New Hampshire’s of just 5%.

Did you ever think we’d reach the day when Detroit was the land of opportunity compared to the decaying former economic power of New Hampshire?

Actually, I grew up in Detroit. It’s nice to follow the remarkable progress they’ve been making in recent years — jettisoning me might have been the spark they needed.

States across the country are doing things to attract jobs, to make themselves more competitive, to make their economies more dynamic. While they act and act often, New Hampshire is content to rest on its laurels.

A very long time ago (in economic terms) we were a robust, thriving economy. People moved here in droves. Jobs expanded here so fast that at times the labor force couldn’t keep up. Unemployment was below full employment and jobs went unfilled ( a problem North Dakota now has because of the oil boom).

The experience colored us and changed the way too many people think. Too many policymakers had that vision burned into their retinas and have been very slow to catch up. These are not the 1980s and our economy is not attracting thousands of economic opportunity migrants every year. We resemble Maine more than we resemble the land of milk and honey.

We are not the envy of our neighbors — as the Federal Reserve wrote about us 15 years ago. Instead we are one of the pathetic 10 and the so-called New Hampshire Advantage is a mythological creature of the past not the present.

The two worst measures that doom us are taxes and energy. When industrial users of electricity would have to pay more than twice the national average price for the privilege of being here, don’t expect them to show up.

On corporate taxes, we are better in some areas than others but we’re 48th in the Tax Foundation’s Corporate Tax Index. Very high corporate taxes coupled with ridiculous energy rates weed out an awful lots of jobs.

While we stagnate, other states are making an effort to improve their position. States all around us are lowering corporate tax rates in an attempt to get out of the bottom 10. In contrast, even a pathetic little cut in our business taxes is controversial here.

Gone is the time when we needed to preserve a New Hampshire dynamism. Now we have to try to figure out how to create one. Mediocrity is something we can hope to achieve in the future. In the meantime we are stuck in the pathetic 10.

Charlie Arlinghaus

March 11, 2014

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Over the last twelve years charter schools have become a small but critically important part of New Hampshire’s education infrastructure. Today, they are under threat by a legislative apathy that threatens to starve them to death. Some opponents are content to ignore any problems hoping no one will notice as the schools fight a struggle for survival. Soft supporters are equally guilty of destruction through apathy – one can’t claim to support something and then ignore it to the point of destruction.

From our founding, my organization, the Josiah Bartlett Center, has cajoled and prodded the powers that to be to enact and support charter schools. They are a reform which has done so much good for so many children across the country – bringing alternatives to children whose economic circumstances often leave them with no real choices.

In the end the weak laws of the 1990s were reformed and then-Gov. Benson signed a state charter school law in 2003 which led to the creation of strongly desired and needed schools.

From the beginning, the reform was fought. I was very critical in 2005 when then-Gov. Lynch sat idly by and allow a local school board to maliciously withhold money designated for the state’s first charter school and gleefully watch it collapse, starved of its funding.

That pathetic episode led to structural changes designed to make sure the funding went where it was legally required to go. Nonetheless, time and apathy have led to schools on the precipice.

After one funding jigger in 2008, charter school payments have remained dead flat at $5450. There have been no adjustments for inflation, no study of costs, no help. Charter Schools are public schools and like all public schools may not charge tuition. They have to manage their budget on that $5450.

In contrast, traditional public schools have always been much better funded and have seen their revenue skyrocket. Seven years ago, per pupil spending was $12,766, almost two-and-a-half times the charter school payment. Their revenue has not been flat. Spending has gone up to $16,199 per pupil in 2014 (according to the state department of education).

Bit by bit, charter school funding has declined in relative terms until they now receive just 33% of the amount traditional public schools get. Everyone expects charter schools to be more efficient but to believe they can survive on just one-third of the funding is either dishonest or silly.

The legislature has traditionally eschewed automatic spending escalators. That’s fine but it requires you to make routine adjustments to the payment you expect the school to run on. Keep in mind this isn’t supplemental aid to pay for one or two things. These payments are expected to pay for virtually all of the capital and operating costs of the school.

This pathetic example of apathy suggests a planning problem with state government. For the last five or so years budget writers have known they were ignoring charter schools. Many of them expressed a willingness to address the problem “next time.” But next time never comes. It’s easier just to ignore the problem and figure some else will fix it but not on your watch. Decisions are always easier if left to be made by someone else.

A bill in the House would start to address the problem but in a kind of half-hearted way. It adds $36 to the payment for next year. That’s not a typo. Rather it’s an attempt to pretend to be doing something. In the second year of the budget, the bill would increase the payment by $1000. So at the end of two years, funding would climb to almost $6500 — which will likely be about 36% of what traditional public schools will receive that year.

After a Herculean effort by some House members to try and find a way to pretend they care, they will drag funding from 33% to 36%. It will still be the lowest spending percentage in the country but someone’s conscience somewhere will be salved.

On the other hand, charter schools struggling to survive and parents desperate the keep their kids in the school they love can shrug their shoulders and say “it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”

Charter school opponents can smile to themselves and say “that won’t keep the wolves at bay for very long.” And more apathetic charter school supporters can say “well, we tried to help a little” and then try not to think about it too much.

Charlie Arlinghaus

September 3, 2014

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Last week’s Supreme Court decision moved the focus of the state’s nascent School Choice Scholarship Program from lawsuits and politics squarely back to children and opportunity. Ultimately, the court’s decision to leave this in the hands of the legislature focuses the debate on opportunity — parents and children seeking the best educational opportunity for their best future.

School choice has become such a political football and the arguments so arcane that it can be easy to forget what the debate is about – children and their education. For one segment of our population, school choice is not a potential program but is reality. Wealthy Granite Staters enjoy a plethora of choices and routinely consider what might be the best educational option for each individual child. One of their children may go to one school while his brother or sister attends a different one tailored to his or her needs, interests, and specialties. The wealth of these families creates opportunities.

The debate over school choice has never been primarily about lawsuits. As I wrote in a paper for the Josiah Bartlett Center more than ten years ago, “In the end, however, the debate over school choice is not about constitutional criteria or religious intolerance. It’s about opportunity. Everyone admits that the choices enjoyed by those who can afford them lead to better outcomes for their children. The only debate is whether or not those same choices will be extended to parents and children of lesser means.”

Rich people have school choice. Poor people do not. Few people doubt that the ability to consider multiple educational options and match them more appropriately to the unique needs of an individual student leads to better outcomes for those students. The state’s school choice scholarship program is designed for the students without those same opportunities.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the politics of the situation. Interest groups and ideological warriors on both sides of the question will get caught up in debates and arguing bits of history (it is only just conceivable that I may be guilty of this myself). For a bit of grounding in practicality, we must turn to that infrequent source of common sense, The Washington Post.

The Washington Post is a reliably liberal newspaper but school choice sometimes has the power to blur lines. Witnessing the need for greater opportunity and hope in the District of Columbia led them to toss aside ideological arguments and remind us that “What shouldn’t get forgotten in this seemingly endless fight are the people with the most at stake: parents who simply want what’s best for their children.”

Instead of discussing whether the law is good or bad for children, provides or doesn’t provide greater opportunity, opponents are reduced to talking budgets. The governor frets that the program diverts millions of dollars (actually $128,568 last school year) and decimates the budgets of existing schools. This echoes the ACLU argument that the program will inflict large fiscal losses on municipalities. If you listened to either of these ill-informed critics you wouldn’t know that the law actually limits the loss of aid in any district to a miniscule one-quarter of 1% of the prior budget.

Their financial misdirection is not nearly as egregious as their oversight of opportunity. No one would seriously disagree that increasing the number of options to consider is good for students and their parents. Instead, opponents are reduced to claiming that while options are all well and good, some options ought not be allowed – notably anything that contains a whiff of religion. Some more cynical actors are sometimes heard to say that some parents don’t know what’s best for their kids and can’t be allowed to make those decisions themselves.

As with any good policy, the primary argument for school choice is individualist rather than ideological. No one school, whether the traditional school, the public charter school, or an independent school is the right choice for each and every student in a particular zip code. Each student is an individual with different needs and different interests. One choice is not enough to address those needs.

In New Hampshire, the school choice program will always be relatively small. But every student should have a choice between smaller and larger schools; private, public, or public charter schools; traditional, Montessori, or Waldorf schools; specialized or more general schools. The goal I identified ten years ago stands today: providing students for whom their only current option isn’t working the means to find another choice that suits their individual needs – in plain and simple terms, greater opportunity.

Charlie Arlinghaus

May 7, 2014

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Governor Hassan made a mistake by nominating someone engaged in an ongoing lawsuit against the state to regulate the area over which he’s still suing. The mistake is not one of policy but one of propriety. The nomination can and should be withdrawn before tomorrow’s vote of the Executive Council.

Bill Duncan and I don’t agree at all on education policy but that does not and should not have any bearing on the propriety of his nomination to the State Board of Education. What’s inappropriate is that he’s currently engaged in suing the state in this very area – the area he’s being tapped to oversee.

After the state’s school choice scholarship law passed in 2012, opponents of that filed a lawsuit to overturn it. That lawsuit, known as Duncan v. New Hampshire, is ongoing. A recent headline missed this when it said that “State Board of Education nominee had sued state over education funding.” The tense of that headline is wrong and that distinction makes all the difference.

As the article makes clear, the lawsuit is ongoing. So the governor has nominated someone to the State Board of Education who is currently suing the state over education policy. He didn’t once upon a time sue the state. He hasn’t expressed concerns. He is currently engaged in lawsuit – a lawsuit named after him – and is going to oversee that area – the area of his ONGOING lawsuit. Does the governor not see that this is a trifle odd?

As a matter of policy, we should not appoint plaintiffs of ongoing lawsuits to oversee the area of state policy over which they are suing. Ever. The governor could find plenty of liberals she could appoint to the State Board who don’t happen to be currently suing the state of New Hampshire over education policy.

This problem can occur when you seek out activists for appointment to oversight positions. Previous governor have rarely sought activists for these oversight positions. Craig Benson, for example, selected a respected local businessman Fred Bramante to chair the board. John Lynch also avoided activists and those who had been lobbying the legislature for his appointments. His selected chairman was another respected local businessman, Tom Raffio, who remains in that position.

Something Benson and Lynch – and their predecessors – agreed on: not one of them ever appointed someone suing the state over education to oversee education policy. Nor did they appoint anyone else enmeshed in an ongoing lawsuit to oversee the subject of that lawsuit. Tax lawyers suing the state weren’t appointed to run Revenue Administration. Prison activists engaged in an ongoing lawsuit didn’t take charge of corrections.

No sensible person, looking at this outside of a political lens could argue the merits of appointing ongoing plaintiffs.

Adding another wrinkle to this is one unique role of the State Board. The State Board of Education charters, authorizes, and regulates almost every charter school in the state. Mr. Duncan, aside from suing over other issues is regarded by the charter school community as leader of their opposition. He’s on the other side from them in every debate. He has said “charter schools are a political statement not an educational improvement.” He’s referred to them as “dismantling public education” and called them a “distraction.” Despite that he says he supports charter schools. You can see, however, why the charter schools of the state might be skeptical.

These views of his – and by extension the governor who nominated him – are a policy choice. They are free to make that policy choice (with which I obviously disagree). But should someone with such demonstrated hostility to charter schools be placed on their oversight and authorizing board?

That’s a policy choice the governor is free to make. His hostility to such schools makes his selection slightly disingenuous on the part of a governor who claims to be supportive of charters but it is not structurally disqualifying. I expect that a fully qualified nominee she picks with have equally doctrinaire liberal views on the matter.

I don’t want to lose sight of what is disqualifying. I said this before but is worth repeating: As a matter of policy, we should not appoint plaintiffs of ongoing lawsuits to oversee the area of state policy over which they are suing. Ever.

Charlie Arlinghaus

April 23, 2014

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Bobby Jindal and the ACLU are having a fight in these opinion pages. Guess whose side I’m going to take? I agree with Gov. Jindal and we both agree with the Washington Post which said “What shouldn’t get forgotten in this seemingly endless fight are the people with the most at stake: parents who simply want what’s best for their children.” The issue which unites me and the Washington Post is the lawsuit over the state’s much admired school choice scholarship program.

The state crafted legislation in 2012 which created an education tax credit for businesses who chose to donate to a scholarship organizations which then awards scholarships to lower income students who may choose any public or private school in the state. The goal of the program, as with most school choice programs, is to give students of modest means more choices and therefore more educational opportunity.

The ACLU immediately sued the state to overturn the law. A lower court let the program proceed but ruled out any religious schools. The lower court explained in its ruling that the issue would ultimately be settled by the state Supreme Court which heard the case last week.

The Washington Post has not weighed in our own program here but is a supporter of a broader program called the “D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.” They point out that children of the privileged in Washington have a variety of educational options and are never limited to the one school assigned by their zip code.

In New Hampshire as in the District of Columbia, rich people have school choice. Poor people don’t. The wealthy can choose among many options to find the best educational fit for each child – quite often different schools in the same family. Poorer students don’t have those options.

Critics contended that the New Hampshire scholarship program would not help the poor but be utilized only by wealthier families. The facts are different. Former state rep. (and former Josiah Bartlett Center policy fellow) Jason Bedrick, now a researcher for the Cato Institute, found that 91% of scholarship recipients qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Bedrick’s study (for another state think tank) are posted on our website and encourage other states to consider replicating the success of New Hampshire’s program.

The ACLU has argued oddly that the program will “inflict large fiscal losses on municipalities.” Perhaps they didn’t notice the provision in the law that limits the impact to any school district to one-quarter of one percent of their prior budget. Hardly a large fiscal loss.

Opponents of the program contend that schools with any religious affiliation should be excluded. Some choices, they suggest, parents should not be permitted to make. They contend that a tax credit is the same thing as a government grant. History, experience, and the state Supreme Court have suggested the opposite.

To begin with, there has long been a distinction between tax credits or exemptions and direct grants from the state treasury. Consider that every church is granted a complete exemption from taxation, not just a credit, under state law. This is not a school or an ancillary facility but the actual house of worship. That’s okay because it isn’t an actual tax payment just an exemption or credit. It falls into an entirely different category from the collection and direct granting of money.

Because the court has never ruled directly on school choice, we undertook an examination of the existing “opinions of the justices,” advisory opinions without the same standing as ruling because they are not the result of both sides making an argument and marshaling their cases.

It is likely the court ruling would agree with the 1955 court that allowed a nursing education program at religious institutions because “members of the public are not prohibited from receiving public benefits because of their religious beliefs or because they happen to be attending a parochial school.” In short, it is important not that programs discriminate but that they don’t discriminate.

In contrast, opponents are in the position of saying the scholarship organization must actively discriminate against schools that happen to also teach religion. The law, in their opinion, must under no circumstance be neutral.

The better choice is to try and do what’s best for children. As Bobby Jindal said “parents are the first and best educators and should be allowed to make the best decisions for their children. Every child learns differently; that is why choice and competition are so important in education.”

By Jason Bedrick

In 2012, the New Hampshire Legislature passed the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), the first scholarship tax credit program to allow scholarships to cover certain homeschooling expenses. Section III details the OSA’s program design and outlines the legislative and legal challenges to the program.

The OSA’s first-year implementation is discussed in Section IV, including the results of a survey of the parents of scholarship recipients. Since the OSA went into effect, the Network for Educational Opportunity, New Hampshire’s first and so far only active scholarship organization, distributed $128,340 in scholarships to 103 students for the 2013-14 school year. Ninety-one percent of those recipients are from families with income low enough to qualify for the federal “National School Lunch” program.

The survey found that 97 percent of parents of scholarship recipients are satisfied with their chosen private or home schools, 68 percent noticed measurable academic improvement since receiving the scholarship, and 74 percent of private school parents reported that they would have been unable to afford tuition without the scholarship. These findings are consistent with previous research and demonstrate once again the promise of educational choice programs.

Click here to read the full report, published by the Show Me Institute

Charlie Arlinghaus

March 21, 2014

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

In Wednesday’s column about a misleading attack on charter school funding, I made a big mistake. I want to correct my mistake about the source of the very misleading information that was circulated and explain to you how I made the mistake and the problem with the information. It’s important that you feel free to agree or disagree with my conclusions but not have cause to doubt my information.

In the charter school funding bill, a document was circulated that contradicted the official fiscal note provided by the state’s Department of Education (DOE). The inaccurate analysis didn’t look like documents produced by the DOE normally do, was a quasi-fiscal note that was the opposite of the official fiscal note the DOE produced, and made errors that seem to misunderstand state law. I – quite wrongly – concluded that the document posted only on an anti-charter blog was not actually produced by the Department of Education while the document that contradicted it and still is the official legislative fiscal note authored by the department was the correct one.

In fact, the department produced and still supports both documents despite the contradiction. I made the mistake by making an assumption simply on the basis of the contradiction. That was wrong.

However, it is still true that the information was misleading, inaccurate in one very important way and a few less critical ways. The bill was still a sensible small step and the very bad information is still clearly contradicted by the official fiscal note produced by the Department of Education.

Rep. Ken Weyler sponsored a bill (now sent to a study committee) to fund the regular public charter schools at 50% of average public school spending (he later proposed 47.5%). The bill did not apply to the virtual charter school. That school, because of its different nature and different role,  has been funded by an agreement which provides a set number of dollars for a specific number of full-time equivalent students.

That funding for the virtual school – which has about half as many students as the other 21 schools combined – was unaffected. Not including it made the Weyler bill affordable. There were no misunderstandings about this from sponsors or opponents and the official fiscal note from the DOE made clear they were “assuming this bill will have no impact on the Department’s memorandum of understanding” with the virtual school.

The official fiscal note assumed funding would cover 2,884 students which would then make the increased funding fall within the current state budget without adjustment.

About a month later, the contrary document began circulating. It buttressed an argument made by anti-charter activists who wanted to use a much larger number and assume very significant growth to posit an unaffordable price tag. While the fiscal note doesn’t project beyond next year, the contrary document goes out four years.

The real problem though is a decision to change and also to not change the assumptions about virtual school funding. On the one side, the contrary document changed the assumption so it could presume 4133 students, a 40% increase that makes the bill’s costs appear somewhat more dramatic if extended four years. Yet, at the same time, the department chose not to change the fiscal note attached to the bill which uses the opposite assumption. The official note assumes, as the bill’s author and everyone else did, that the virtual school is unchanged. The contrary note reverses that assumption but leaves the fiscal note as is.

One of those two documents is wrong. If one is right, the other must be quite wrong in its central assumption. The same author, the state Department of Education, can not make two financial estimates based on contrary central assumptions. Yet they did and continue to stand by both documents.

There are criticisms of some other assumptions the contrary document made but most others are a matter of debate. At its core, the real problem is one author has contradicted itself and let stand two competing and irreconcilable descriptions of a single bill – the official fiscal note and its rebuttal.

Legislators are provided authoritative fiscal notes on bills to help them understand the financial implications of policy as a point of information in decision making. Those notes, attached to the legislation itself, can and often are revised. This time it wasn’t.

Rep. Weyler drafted a floor amendment to make clear what everyone already knew before DOE’s dueling interpretations created confusion – that the bill didn’t affect the virtual funding. But by then it was too late. A bill that had passed by 54 votes before being sent to Finance died by 16 votes simply on the basis of confused financial information.

Charlie Arlinghaus

March 19, 2014

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

A modest normalization of charter school funding, although long overdue, has become a political football and subject of misinformed and purposely misleading arguments to try and kill it. The truth, easily discovered, is that the proposal covers fewer than 2% of students and involves less than 2% of state education funding and continues to ask charter schools to prosper with less than half the funding of traditional schools.

Traditional public schools have seen a spending increase of 60% over the last ten years and now receive $13,500 per pupil. In contrast, public charter schools have been level funded at $5450 since their one increase five years ago, an amount that is 40% of the funding other public schools receive.

A bill before the House of Representatives would increase that funding level to 47.5% of the state average funding. The average citizen might well think it odd to expect schools to succeed on less than half the funding of their compatriots. The response of the anti-charter community is to suggest that such over-generous funding might well mark the end of civilization as we know it.

They could be excused for merely holding a silly idea if it were not for the misleading documents they have decided to start circulating to exaggerate their case.

They have circulated a document titled “Department of Education, HB435 cost projections” which might lead the casual observer to think that the document contained cost projections produced by the Department of Education. In fact it does not. Instead it was produced by an activist and includes estimates contrary to state law and misleading information, mistakes of a sort that no one in the actual Department of Education would ever make.

Sadly, the “report” is referenced in the official House Calendar as a reason to proceed cautiously.

The masquerade document presumes every charter will increase its enrollment on into the future. In reality, every charter includes for each and every year binding enrollment caps which may not be exceeded. Many existing schools have already reached their maximum and will not grow.

It also presumes that the one virtual charter school which has nominal enrollment equal to about half of all other schools combined is covered by the law and will grow significantly. In fact, that school because of its nature is funded differently and is not part of this funding stream or the bill — as the real fiscal analysis actually done by the actual department of education pointed out. A more cynical person than I am might believe those numbers were not a mistake but included to exaggerate the case being made. But I’m not a cynic.

In reality, the bill is a modest step which will make little or no difference in the structure of the billion dollar state education aid programs or the three billion of education spending in state. But it could make a dramatic difference in the life of some individual schools which make an enormous difference to some individual students.

There are about 203,000 students in New Hampshire which is more than 10% fewer than a decade ago.  Fewer than 1.5% of them are in charter schools – the proposed bill would affect 2,884 students in 2015 according to its fiscal note from the real Department of Education.

State education spending will amount to $1.01 billion of the total $2.8 billion districts will spend. The additional charter school money will be within the amount budgeted for FY2015, according to documents produced by the Legislative Budget Office.

There’s no question going forward that there is an additional cost. If one believes that 47.5% of the amount traditional public schools receive is an unreasonably HIGH number and that a charter school should be able to operate on much less (not that any other school can but maybe you think that) then the funding bill is an extravagance.

However, I suspect most people will look at this and think “goodness gracious, 47.5% still seems pathetically low. What sort of nimrod thinks this is unreasonable?”

Debates can and should be based on real numbers. Charter schools, although a small component of our education system, are widely regarded by people of all ideologies and backgrounds as a very useful component of educational diversity. New Hampshire’s recent history is of charters being less controversial, more broadly supported, and partisan free.

A modest but operationally important funding adjustment should be non-controversial. I hope it will be.

 

Note: Read the Correction Here http://www.jbartlett.org/my-wednesday-mistake-and-the-mixed-up-charter-numbers