Croydon, NH continues to be harassed and threatened by the state Department of Education.
Croydon is a tiny town, northwest of Concord. They have one school that serves roughly 30 students in Kindergarten through fourth grade. They have routinely tuitioned-out their older students, and when the contract with Newport ended in 2012, they negotiated with other area schools to expand options for families at better prices for tax payers.
This new school choice program first went into effect last year when five of their 60 students in grades 5 through 12 chose to enroll in alternative schools; one in a Sunapee public school, and four in private schools. Croydon pays approximately $13K per student to attend the Newport schools, but the new program allows families to select other schools. If those schools charge more, the parents are responsible for the difference. If the schools charge less for tuition, it is a savings to the community. For example, the Newport Montessori School charges approximately $4K less per student than the public Newport schools. This is a cost savings to Croydon residents for each child enrolled in the Montessori school.
In March 2015, well into the school year, the state Department of Education abruptly told Croydon to immediately remove the four students who were attending the private schools. They threatened to withhold adequacy money if they failed to comply. With just three months remaining in the school year, this certainly was not in the best interest of the students.
The 2015-2016 school year is underway with five Croydon students enrolled at the Newport Montessori School and the DOE resumes their harassment and scare tactics, this time with the assistance of the Attorney General’s office. In a letter dated September 8, 2015, the AG sent Croydon a “cease and desist” letter telling them to immediately stop paying the tuition for the five Croydon students attending the private school. The letter twists multiple state statutes and includes several Claremont citations. It also says, “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 AG’s letter also claims that private schools are not accountable to the state and that Croydon’s program “threatens to undermine the public school accountability system in New Hampshire.”
The AG’s office intends to put pressure on the Croydon selectmen, hoping to drive a wedge in the town’s resolve to provide this cost-effective educational choice program. They also say that they will consider “all legal options” if the Croydon School Board does not concede.
Dr. Jody Underwood, Chairman of the Croydon School District is working with former NH Supreme Court Justice, Charles Douglas, who supports Croydon’s program and reading of state statutes . One such statute is 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.
Croydon’s program is also consistent with the practice of several other districts that tuition their students to private schools including Pinkerton in Derry, Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, and Coe-Brown Northwood Academy in Northwood.
Children should have the opportunity to attend a school which best fits their educational needs and Croydon’s innovative program is consistent with state law and current practices. Additionally, given the moratorium on state building aid and declining student enrollment, Croydon’s school choice program could offer a prudent fiscal option for districts across the state.