Choice Without Strings Attached

We have been carefully tracking the progress of House Bill 1637, the school choice for small towns bill. The bill’s intention is to facilitate programs such as the one in Croydon that enables small school districts to tuition out students of any grade level if it is not available within their resident district. It would be beneficial to 15 small districts across the state and those facing declining student enrollment.

The concept is consistent with existing state statutes and practices.

RSA 194:22 allows for districts to have tuition agreements with other schools using taxpayers’ dollars.

194:22 Contracts With Schools. – Any school district may make a contract with an academy, high school or other literary institution located in this or, when distance or transportation facilities make it necessary, in another state, and raise and appropriate money to carry the contract into effect. If the contract is approved by the state board the school with which it is made shall be deemed a high school maintained by the district.

What else could “other literary institutions” refer to other than private schools? The state currently allows public-private school agreements with Kimball Union Academy in Meriden as well as Bishop Guertin, a private religious high school in Nashua. The state also permits school districts to have agreements with private schools across state lines including the Lyme school district’s arrangements with Thetford Academy and St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont, and Chatham’s tuition agreement with Fryeburg Academy in Maine.

RSA 193:1, section I (a), the statute that addresses school attendance, specifically states that attendance at a private school is a substitute for attending a public school.

193:1 Duty of Parent; Compulsory Attendance by Pupil.
I. A parent of any child at least 6 years of age and under 18 years of age shall cause such child to attend the public school to which the child is assigned in the child’s resident district. Such child shall attend full time when such school is in session unless:
(a) The child is attending a New Hampshire public school outside the district to which the child is assigned or an approved New Hampshire private school for the same time.

Unfortunately the version of HB 1637 the House passed has the new text in placed in the responsibilities of parents section of statute instead of those for school boards. While this may not be harmful, it is sloppy legislation, and not needed to support school choice programs or Croydon’s court case.

Instead of fixing this flaw, the Senate made it much worse. Instead of considering the Avard-Hill amendment that would have corrected the House version, they adopted an amendment that would require private schools to follow statutes intended for public schools, adopt Common Core, and administer the aligned statewide assessments to participate in choice programs. This version would harm private schools with existing tuition agreements with public school districts. It would also erase one of the critical distinctions between public and private schools. Finally, the Senate version would not have potential for growth.

While the House version of HB 1637 may not do harm to existing educational options, it also offers no benefits. The Senate version has so many “strings” attached that it is a poor bill to facilitate choice.

Last week the Senate had the opportunity to reconsider their previous vote; it would have been an effective “do over.” However, they failed to do that and because the House and Senate passed different versions of HB 1637, the House decided to reconcile them in a Committee of Conference. This means that a handful of Representatives and Senators will decide the fate of HB 1637. They can meet at any time with barely 24 hours prior notification. Unfortunately a simple note on the committee door will pass for public notice.

Update — HB 1637’s Committee of Conference meeting will be Tuesday, May 24th at 2:00 PM in room 207 of the Legislative Office Building.

Therefore, contact the Committee of Conference members immediately, asking them to kill the bill. HB 1637 is ineffective at creating real choice. Choice programs are already legal and allowed by the Department of Education. Additionally, they should allow the Croydon case to play out through the courts without further legislative action.

Brief, polite phone calls are most effective, but emails are always helpful. Mention if you are a constituent.

This has become a bill of major importance and visibility, so they have named a powerful group of legislators to the Committee of Conference. It includes the Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the House, both Education Committee chairmen, another senator from the education committee, the Speaker Pro Tempore, and House Majority Leader. If they come to some kind of agreement — choosing the House or Senate version, or negotiating something new — it will go to the legislative bodies for approval again before moving on to the Governor. Alternatively, the Committee of Conference could agree to disagree, or not sign off on the bill. Either outcome would kill the bill.

Committee of Conference members for HB 1637

Sen. Jeb Bradley — District 3, Wolfeboro

Sen. John Reagan  — District 17, Deerfield

Sen. David Watters — District 4, Dover

Speaker Shawn Jasper — Hillsborough district 37

(Chair) Rep. Rick Ladd — Grafton district 4

Rep. Richard Hinch — Hillsborough district 21

Rep. Sherman Packard — Rockingham district 5


For more information on HB 1637, read the following articles.
Disaster in the Senate
Saving School Choice
School Choice for Small Towns Hits Snag in Senate
Testimony for HB 1637
HB 1637 — School Choice for Small Towns
Guarantee an Adequate Education?

For more background on Croydon’s choice program and lawsuit, read the following.
Croydon’s Day in Court
Injunction Hearing for Croydon vs the NH DOE
Response to the NH DOE and Attorney General
It’s About Control, Not the Kids
The NH DOE Continues to Bully Croydon
The DOE Wants to End School Choice
Innovative School Choice Program in Croydon

Correction made on Parliamentary Procedure.