The state’s House of Representatives passed an amended version of Senate Bill 8, known as “the Croydon Bill,” in June to allow districts to practice “town tuitioning,” as the Croydon School District and many small towns bordering other states do.
“A school board may execute a contract with any approved nonsectarian private school approved by the school board as a school tuition program … to provide for the education of a child who resides in the school district, and may raise and appropriate money for the purposes of the contract, if the school district does not have a public school at the pupil’s grade level and the school board decides it is in the best interest of the pupil,” the bill reads.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R) signed the bill into law on June 29.
DOE Changed Rule
“[Croydon] has 37 students in grades five to 12,” the New Hampshire Union Leader reported in November 2015. “Most of those students attend the Newport public middle and high school, which costs the school district about $12,000 per student. Five attend Newport Montessori School, which goes up to the eighth grade. Tuition at the private school is $8,200 a year.”
In February 2015, the state department of education (DOE) sent Croydon a letter ordering the district to stop paying private tuition for students for whom the district could not provide public education. In July 2016, the New Hampshire Superior Court ruled in favor of New Hampshire’s DOE. Croydon appealed its case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The new law voids the need for an appeal.
Accountability, Local Control
State Rep. Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill), chairman of the House Education Committee, says SB 8 was crafted to hold schools accountable.
“We put accountability measures in there where the receiving school has to provide a nationally standardized assessment,” Ladd said. “That’s at the choosing of the receiving school, and that receiving school is responsible for submitting annual progress reports to the school board, not to [the DOE] or to the state board of education.
“In the end, we have a bill that meets the constitutional constraints,” Ladd said. “It meets the accountability constraints of the state, and it puts the responsibility where it belongs, on the local school board. It’s a local choice bill. It’s a local control bill.”
No Private Schools Allowed
Ladd says the legislature was mindful of the state’s Blaine amendment, which prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding sectarian schools, while crafting the bill.
“We have the Blaine Amendment in the State of New Hampshire, part of our Constitution, which specifies that public dollars will not be used for a religious school,” Ladd said. “We believe this is a good step forward, and what we have identified, we’ve guaranteed that now a public school can send [a student] to a private, not a private religious school, but a private, nonsectarian school. That’s a tremendous step forward in the state of New Hampshire.”
Michelle Levell, director of School Choice New Hampshire, says SB 8 will help students who are happy in their current private schools.
“This bill was initiated to clarify the Croydon School Board’s authority to offer a school choice program,” Levell said. “The tiny town provides kindergarten through fourth grade in-district and must tuition out older students. It is not a new concept, as New Hampshire local school boards may already enter into agreements with public and private schools. Last summer, the New Hampshire Superior Court ruled against Croydon, and their appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court [was] on hold pending the 2017 legislative efforts. There are students enrolled in Croydon’s school choice program this year. Now that the bill passed, these children may stay at the schools where they are thriving.”
Will Affect 50 Towns
Levell says the legislation’s effects will be far-reaching.
“Although SB 8 is commonly called the ‘Croydon bill,’ it is not limited to just one community,” Levell said. “It will impact roughly 50 small towns across New Hampshire that do not have every grade in their district. Croydon paved the way for these small communities. Their program is a model to expand choice to more students who otherwise would not be able to access a better educational fit, and for small towns to better manage financial responsibilities in the face of declining student enrollment and rising educational costs.”
Cites Parents’ Support
State Sen. Ruth Ward (R-Stoddard), SB 8’s prime sponsor, says parents support the new law.
“A lot of people feel as though we are taking it away from the public schools, [that] we’re giving it to the rich people, and the private schools have absolutely no accountability and they have no oversight as to the quality of the education, and it’s unconstitutional, it’s not right, all kinds of things,” Ward said. “I’ve heard from parents.
“There are a lot of other parents who have let me know that this is a good thing, parents who are for school choice, because many of them don’t like their local schools,” Ward said. “They find a lot of problems with them, the curriculum in particular and all the testing that is done. They are just tired of it.”
Kimberly Morin ([email protected]) writes from Brentwood, New Hampshire.
New Hampshire state Rep. Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill): http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/members/member.aspx?member=376832
New Hampshire state Sen. Ruth Ward (R-Stoddard): http://www.ruthwardforsenate.com/contact.html