The day before President Joe Biden’s scheduled visit to Portsmouth, Gov. Chris Sununu joined a group of GOP governors calling out the president’s proposed restrictions on public charter schools.
“It is a certainty that the expansion of such burdensome regulations will make it more difficult—if not impossible—for independent and smaller charter schools to access federal funds,” they wrote.
At issue are Biden administration rules requiring charter schools to undergo a “community impact analysis” to qualify for federal funding. Only charter schools in areas where there is “unmet demand” would be eligible.
In their letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the 18 Republican governors said the proposed rule would likely hurt students in urban school districts who need help most.
“It cannot be ignored that enrollment is down in many big-city school districts due to parents choosing to leave closed or persistently failing schools,” the governors wrote. “The administration’s proposed rule means that charters bringing high-quality seats to areas in need would be routinely rejected for funds, despite offering parents a chance to stay in their community without sacrificing their child’s future,” they added.
Professor Robert Maranto from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas says it is a Catch-22 rule for kids in struggling schools.
“Of course, the worst traditional public schools are under-enrolled because parents of means left long ago. That means this regulation could remove options from low-income parents — all in the name of equity,” according to Maranto.
And in an editorial headlined “Biden’s New Charter School Rules Are a Mistake,” Bloomberg News editorialized: “Charter school operators would be barred from receiving federal support if they opened in areas seeing declining public-school enrollment — the very communities where, after two years of disrupted learning, dissatisfaction with public schools is boiling over. It’s a flagrantly wrongheaded policy.”
Charter school supporters argue educational outcomes demonstrate their value and accuse opponents of doing the bidding of teachers unions, which have shown an outsized level of influence in the Biden administration. For example, the Centers for Disease Control reversed its mask guidance for schools in response to pressure from National Education Association.
And, the governors wrote, the pandemic makes the need for charter school access even more important.
“Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation’s children are in greater need than ever. National school closures led to significant learning loss, a decline in college enrollment, and a rapid rise in mental health challenges experienced by students. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, more—rather than fewer—parents sought to enroll their children in high-performing public charter schools.”
New Hampshire charter school advocates said they were pleased Sununu chose to speak out.
“Gov. Sununu has always been a stalwart supporter of public charter schools in New Hampshire,” said state Rep. Maureen Mooney (R-Merrimack). “His signing on to this important letter further indicates his commitment to educational choice and the best interest of the students.”
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, who will be appearing with Biden in Portsmouth on Tuesday, did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the administration’s charter school rule. Hassan has supported charter schools in the past. In 2016, then-governor Hassan sent a letter to the Department of Education urging support for a charter school grant benefitting New Hampshire. But in 2019 when New Hampshire Democrats voted down $46 million in federal charter school funding, Hassan had no comment.
Her potential GOP opponents in November’s election say Hassan’s putting loyalty to Biden ahead of local school kids.
“President Biden’s giveaway to the teachers unions is not only another reminder for Granite Staters how out of step he really is, but it also represents another political anvil that Senator Hassan has to carry into battle this fall,” retired Gen. Don Bolduc told NHJournal. “President Biden is not on the ballot this year, but his policies and priorities, including this one, are.”
Another GOP U.S. Senate candidate, former Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith, called on Hassan to “join me in standing with parents and kids– and against this big government takeover.”
“I stand firmly with the governors who oppose the nonsensical mandates and takeover of all charter schools in America,” Smith added.