HB 1637 — School Choice for Small Towns

On February 12th the House Education Committee held a public hearing for HB 1637, a bill that would clarify statutes regarding agreements between small school districts and other schools for their students. We live-blogged the hearing on Facebook. (Photos were later uploaded and spelling of names corrected for the record.) A member of the public also video recorded the first 17 minutes of the hearing.

At the hearing, prime sponsor Rep. Ralph Boehm introduced an amendment, 2016-0204h. It adds the words “for attendance” in line 8 and lines 18-19.

HB 1637 (2016), amendment 2016-0204h, by Rep. Boehm

Rep. Frank Edelblut, another sponsor, introduced a second amendment that would expand school choice programs to all districts. He points out that this is already permitted for students with IEPs. He said the state DOE, by challenging the Croydon school choice program, is not acting in the best interests of districts and students, but for itself.

HB 1637 (2016), amendment 2016-0506h, by Rep. Edelblut
HB 1637 (2016), amendment 2016-0506h, by Rep. Edelblut

Only two people spoke against the bill, one being attorney Erin MacIntire on behalf of the state Department of Education and the Department of Justice. Her remarks were consistent with statements by the Attorney General in communications with the Croydon School Board and those made at the November injunction hearing. Ms. MacIntire claimed that only public schools can “guarantee” an “adequate education.” She said it is the statewide testing, graduation rates, and education levels that provide accountability and that private school inherently do not have the same mechanisms in place.

Multiple people testified against that presumption. Many said that private schools are accountable to parents; if they are not satisfied with the education their children receive, they leave the school. Jim Peschke, a Croydon School Board member, declared that all of the parents with students participating in their school choice program have expressed great satisfaction with their children’s experiences. Christy Whipple, Head of School at the Newport Montessori School, told the committee that their students participate in the Iowa Basic Skills Test, a well-established academic test. Parents and teachers receive results and they help students prove their academic capabilities when they graduate or transfer out of the school. Dr. Jody Underwood, Chairman of the Croydon School Board, pointed out that Newport, their AREA agreement district, has two failing schools [per the 2013-2014 NECAP scores]. In the most recent testing period, overall the Newport district has only 30% scoring proficient or better in math on the 2015 Smarter Balanced Assessment. At the high school level, the district scored even lower with only 9% scoring proficient or above in math. Dr. Underwood questioned if that is an adequate education. (The overall NH results for the SBA 2015 are available here.)

The only other party opposed to the bill was Dean Michener with the NH School Board Association. He said that the association is concerned that these agreements would be costly to districts. He completely ignored that the school choice program is structured so that if tuition at a selected alternative school is less, the town has a savings; if it costs more, families pay the difference. Croydon’s program saves the taxpayers $16K this year alone. Mr. Michener also said that districts could be vulnerable to lawsuits if the private school alternatives fail to provide an “adequate education,” again presuming that the statewide assessments and DOE’s approval provide that guarantee. Rep. Rick Ladd, Chairman of the committee, cornered Mr. Mischener to admit that the NHSBA has not explored whether or not they would support tuition agreements at schools that are approved by the DOE. Further, Rep. Glenn Cordelli pointed out that state statute, RSA 193:1, already allows compulsory attendance to be satisfied with enrollment at private schools or home education programs.

In addition to supporting children’s unique learning needs, this bill has major ramifications for other small districts across the state. Fifteen districts do not have schools for all grade levels within their own communities and already make tuition agreements with other districts to provide education for their students. With declining enrollment and a moratorium on building aid, school choice programs like Croydon’s could provide a sound fiscal alternative.

HB 1637 is scheduled for an executive session on March 1 at 9:30am. This is when the House Education Committee will discuss and vote on a recommendation — Ought to Pass (with or without an amendment) to support the bill, or Inexpedient to Legislate to kill it. The committee could also decide to send it to interim study which can be a dead-end for the bill. The public has until the executive session to communicate with the committee and encourage their support. Phone calls are most effective, but emails are helpful. The committee’s recommendation is very influential on the outcome when the bill goes before the entire NH House of Representatives. Their emails are at the end of this post.

For additional information on the background of Croydon’s innovative program and their legal challenge from the Department of Education, read the following articles.

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

 

To contact the entire House Education Committee, you may send one email to HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us. The General Court website is experiencing several technical difficulties (the committee’s email is not always working), so consider contact the Representatives directly. Particularly mention if you are a constituent. Emails for each member of the House Education Committee:

ladd.nhhouse@charter.net
john.balcom@leg.state.nh.us
beshaw3@comcast.net
ralph.boehm@leg.state.nh.us
bob.elliott@leg.state.nh.us
josh.moore@leg.state.nh.us
terry.wolf@leg.state.nh.us
junemf@comcast.net
deanna1214@aol.com
glenn.cordelli@leg.state.nh.us
cradams13@charter.net
Jason@Osborne4NH.com
Mary.Gile@leg.state.nh.us
Andrew.Schmidt@leg.state.nh.us
Mary.Heath@leg.state.nh.us
jimgreniersullivan7@gmail.com
Allen.cook@leg.state.nh.us
patchessul@comcast.net
mqgorman@comcast.net
Mel.Myler@leg.state.nh.us
james.verschueren@leg.state.nh.us