Late last week it was revealed that the NH Department of Education issued a letter to the Croydon School District to end their newly enacted school choice program.
Beginning with the current school year, Croydon initiated a program that allows families to select from a number of public and private schools for their grade 5 through 12 student. As a small district, Croydon only provides education from Kindergarten through fourth grade, and had customarily tuitioned-out their students to Newport. The agreement with Newport ended and the district negotiated more options, at better tuition rates with more choices of surrounding public and private schools. This process started more than seven years ago and was done with the full knowledge and involvement of the state DOE. Under the new program, funding follows the child to the school of the family’s choice.
Croydon has approximately 60 students in fifth through 12th grade; the majority of families chose to send their child to the Newport Middle and High Schools. Only five opted to enroll their children in alternative schools; one in a Sunapee public school and four in private schools.
Croydon’s cost to send students to Newport is $15K per student, so under the new program, the district will allow up to that amount to follow the student to the selected school. Any difference in the tuition is the family’s responsibility. Some of the schools in the program cost less than $15K so it is a cost savings to the community.
As first reported in the Union Leader on March 4, 2015, the state Department of Education is suddenly calling for Croydon to immediately withdraw the four students enrolled in private schools. One is a graduating senior. Another younger student is thriving in the private school whereas she was not doing well at the Newport school she previously attended.
Can you imagine removing students from their schools with only three months left in the school year? That is terribly disruptive to their education.
Dr. Jody Underwood, Chairman of the Croydon School District, cites RSA 194:22 to support Croydon’s school choice program.
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.
Croydon’s new program is also consistent with current practices around the state where districts contract-out students to Pinkerton in Derry, Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, and Coe-Brown Northwood Academy in Northwood. Given the moratorium on school-building aid and decreasing student populations across the state, this program could be a prudent fiscal option for many districts.
In the UL article it was reported that Commissioner Dr. Virginia Barry’s letter to Croydon stated that the state “has implemented a system to guarantee that all public school children receive an adequate education. This system is exclusive to public schools.”
It seems that the state Department of Education is more concerned with maintaining their power and control over public schools than what is best for our students and has little regard for local control.
Croydon is reaching out to attorneys for advice on how to proceed. They have indicated an intention to allow the four students to finish the school year at their current schools, and an interest in protecting their locally-determined school choice program. Updates will be shared as they become available.
This situation is directly relevant to HB 317, a bill that would explicitly expand RSA 194:22 to include elementary and middle school students to the provision that allows districts to contract with other public and non-public schools.
The NH House of Representatives will vote on HB 317 on Thursday, March 12th. There is still time to contact your Representatives, urging them to oppose the committee’s recommendation of Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL). To find your Representatives, go to “Who’s My Legislator?” The email for all Reps is firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on this program, refer to Innovative School Choice Program in Croydon.