By Michelle Levell
This afternoon proponents celebrated a major school choice win as Governor Sununu signed Senate Bill 8 (SB8), the town tuitioning bill, into law. SB 8 clarifies statute regarding local school boards’ authority to contract with public and private schools for those grades Kindergarten through 12th that are not available in-district.
The tiny town of Croydon provides Kindergarten through 4th grade and must tuition out older students. In 2014 they created a school choice program that allows parents of older students to select from a mix of nearby public and private schools. The former NH Commissioner of Education, Dr. Virginia Barry, and former NH Attorney General, Joe Foster, challenged the program’s legality. Last summer the NH Superior Court ruled against Croydon and their appeal to the NH Supreme Court is on hold pending the 2017 legislative efforts.
Dr. Jody Underwood, vice chair and school choice liaison for the Croydon School Board, said:
It feels really good that after 10 years of working on it, the law is finally updated to reflect what the state has been doing for over a hundred years. We’re thrilled!
Many of the children participating in Croydon’s school choice program attend Newport Montessori School. Their families have been closely following the progress of SB 8 and actively supporting it.
Christy Whipple, founder and principal of NMS, told us that the student body and teachers were cheering when the NH House passed the bill. She stated that one student shouted, “We get to stay!” and another said a bit more quietly, “My friend gets to come next year…this will be so great for her”.
The Croydon program is modeled on practices by several other NH districts that have tuition agreements with private schools, including some across state lines. The state currently allows public-private school contracts between the Plainfield School District and Kimball Union Academy as well as the Hampton School District and Sacred Heart Academy.
The state DOE also approves of 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 SB 8 is commonly called the “Croydon bill,” it is not limited to just one community; it will impact roughly 50 small towns across the state that do not offer all grades K-12 in-district. Croydon’s program, and now the new law, will pave the way for more small communities.
The program is a model to expand choice to more students who otherwise would not have access to a better educational fit and for small towns to manage financial responsibilities with declining student enrollment and rising educational costs. We are aware of a couple small communities that will consider similar school choice programs now that the new law clarifies NH statutes.
SB 8 will go into effect in 60 days, just in time to allow students participating in Croydon’s choice program to continue at their schools in the 2017-2018 academic year.
This new law is a win for children and small towns across the Granite State.