It’s About Control, Not the Kids

As threatened, the New Hampshire Department of Education directed the Attorney General’ s office to pursue an injunction against the Croydon School Board to immediately stop sending tuition payments for the four students enrolled in a private school through their school choice program.

A hearing in Strafford Superior Court is set for Monday, November 30th at 2:30pm.

Last year the tiny town of Croydon implemented a cost-savings school choice program that enables families to pick alternatives to their “anchor” Newport district schools. Although the NH DOE gave tacit approval of their plans along the way, they now want to put an end to it. Currently four Croydon students are utilizing the program to attend a private school at a savings of roughly $16K to the town.

In September the Attorney General sent a ” cease and desist ” letter to the Croydon School Board demanding that they stop making tuition payments to the private school within 20 days. The Croydon School Board, with support from the residents and selectman, did not comply as they believe they are properly following state law.

This past Monday, November 2nd, the NH Attorney General filed an injunction to try to immediately block the tuition payments, effectively removing these four students from their selected school.

The AG’s motion also seeks to expedite the hearing. However, to meet the requirements for a preliminary injunction, the state must prove that the NH DOE is “irreparably harmed” if the injunction is not granted. This completely ignores the impact on the students. An injunction would clearly not be in the best interests of these children.

In their March and September 2015 letters to Croydon the state claims that the school board is illegally sending public funds to private schools. However, other New Hampshire districts have similar tuition agreements with private schools — Pinkerton in Derry, Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, and Coe-Brown Northwood Academy in Northwood. There is also precedent of NH districts contracting with private schools across state lines. The Lyme school district has agreements with Thetford Academy and St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont, and Chatham has a tuition agreement with Fryeburg Academy in Maine.

In papers sent to the Croydon School Board, the NH DOE and the Attorney General stated that only public schools can provide an adequate education and that parents cannot determine the best educational options for their children. Both letters by the NH DOE and AG state, In order to meet its duty, the State of New Hampshire has implemented a system to guarantee that all public school children receive the opportunity for an adequate education. This system is exclusive to the public schools.”

The Croydon program is based upon state statute that supports private school tuition agreements, RSA 194:22 which reads,

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.

The NH Department of Education and the Attorney General incompletely cite RSA 193:1, the statute that addresses school attendance. Section I (a) 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.

Croydon began developing this school choice program nearly eight years ago as part of its plan to end its AREA agreement with the Newport School District. They went through a multi-year process that included a couple of town votes and proposals to the Department of Education. Croydon has one school that serves their kindergarten through fourth-grade students. Newport School District continues to serve as the “anchor” district for Croydon’s older students, but families now have a choice. The alternatives allow families to choose from selected nearby public and private schools. If the tuition at those schools is less, the town has a savings. If the school of choice costs more, the families must pay the difference.

The school choice initiative passed, and was implemented with the 2014-2015 school year. The Croydon School Board — with the support of their selectman and residents — sent five students to an out-of-district public school and two private schools of their parents’ choosing. This year four Croydon students are attending the Newport Montessori School. Croydon pays approximately $13K per student for those attending the Newport district elementary schools. The Newport Montessori School charges roughly $4K less per child. This represents a $16K savings to the town this year.

This program will have a major impact on other towns with small and declining school enrollments and struggle due to the moratorium on state building aid. Croydon School Board Chairman, Dr. Jody Underwood, has been contacted by other school boards who are interested in their program and the outcome of the hearing.

Exactly what is the problem with Croydon’s program? The school board followed the proper process and the program was approved by the residents. This is a great example of local control and responsiveness by a school board.

Why is the AG spending taxpayers’ money pursing this issue? The Croydon program saves the town money, approximately $4,000 for each student that is enrolled in the Montessori school.

If the NH DOE and AG’s office have a problem with private schools receiving public money in tuition agreements, why have they allowed other districts to enter into similar contracts?

This innovative program is a win for students, schools, and taxpayers.

Make no mistake. This is about control; it is not about providing a solid education, or even what is best for these students.

On Monday, November 30th, please come out to support school choice and parents — not the state — choosing what is best for their kids’ education.

Also, sign our petition that will send an email to the NH DOE and Attorney General. The email includes a message that supports the Croydon school choice program and asks them to end the injunction and further intrusions.

For more information, read the following:
The NH DOE Continues to Bully Croydon
The DOE Wants to End School Choice
Innovative School Choice Program in Croydon