Over a seven-year period, the Croydon School District developed a school choice program that enables families to select from several schools in the region, including some private schools. The tiny district only provides Kindergarten through 4th grade in-district, and must tuition-out students starting in 5th grade. Croydon has the Newport district schools as their “anchor” or default schools, but a handful of families had concerns with sending their children there. The program has tuition pegged to the cost of the Newport public schools. If a families selects a school that costs more than the Newport school, the family must pay the difference. If the tuition is less, the town has a cost savings.
In the 2014-2015 school year — the first year of implementation — five families participated in the choice program. This past year four children attended the Newport Montessori School. This private school costs $4,000 less per child than the anchor Newport school, so this year alone the Croydon taxpayers saved $16,000.
This is a reasonable program that allows small districts that already must tuition-out students to respond to declining enrollments with creative and fiscally-responsible solutions and flexibility to parents to better meet their students’ educational needs.
This program is consistent with several state statutes that allow tax dollars to follow children to private schools.
RSA 194:22 says:
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.
RSA 193:1 says:
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.
RSA 193:3 says:
II. The state board of education shall adopt rules pursuant to RSA 541-A, relative to manifest educational hardship and related issues which affect a child’s attendance at school. Each school district shall establish a policy, consistent with the state board’s rules, which shall allow a school board, with the recommendation of the superintendent, to take appropriate action including, but not limited to, assignment to a public school in another district when manifest educational hardship is shown.
Croydon’s program is also consistent with existing practices by other districts. The state already permits special arrangements between Kimball Union Academy and the town of Plainfield as well as agreements between public districts and Bishop Guertin, a private religious high school in Nashua. The state DOE also recognizes tuition agreements with out-of-state private schools. 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.
Although the state Department of Education was aware of Croydon’s program as it developed, it wasn’t until Fall 2014 that the DOE notified the school board that they would contest it. The school year was already underway, but that did not deter the state. They continued to issue “cease and desist” letters and ultimately filed an injunction claiming that children would be irreparable harmed by attending these private schools, and that the state would be vulnerable to lawsuits if parents thought these private schools were not sufficiently providing “an adequate education.” Fortunately Croydon prevailed and the four students were able to finish the 2015-2016 school year without additional disruption.
However, that was not the end to the lawsuit and the full case was heard in March 2016.
Less than two weeks ago the NH Superior Court ruled in favor of the state Department of Education. This decision is against parents who simply want a good educational fit for their children and taxpayers who decided this is a fiscally responsible program for their community.
The Croydon School Board, with the help of their attorney, former NH Supreme Court Justice Charles Douglas, will ask the Superior Court for reconsideration, an explanation of the ruling. If that is not successful, they intend to contest the decision to the NH Supreme Court. The Croydon School Board is seeking donations to off-set the legal fees so it won’t be a burden to the town. They initially raised $20,000 for the first court battle, but they project needing another $30,000 to see it all the way through the NH Supreme Court.
Also, please consider sending an email to Dr. Virginia Barry, Commissioner of the state DOE. The email will show support of Croydon and other towns providing innovative solutions to meet the needs of their districts. Parents – not the state – should determine what is best for their children. Programs like theirs are a win for students, schools, and taxpayers. The message can be personalized for greater impact.
For more information about Croydon’s program and court case, read the following.
Superior Court Rules in Croydon Case
Croydon’s Day in Court
HB 1637 — School Choice for Small Towns
Guarantee an Adequate Education?
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