By Michelle Levell
Late last week the NH House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 8 (SB8), the ‘town tuitioning’ bill. This bill was initiated to clarify the Croydon School Board’s authority to offer a school choice program. The tiny town provides Kindergarten through 4th grade in-district and must tuition out older students.
In 2014 they began a school choice program that allows parents 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.
It can be easy to lose sight of how school choice impacts individual children. Politicians, lobbyists, and advocates can get caught up in policy and budget debates. But decisions reached in Concord have a profound effect on thousands of children across the state. It is absolutely essential to remember that each child has one chance at a Kindergarten through 12th grade education that fits his or her learning needs and goals.
Most of the children participating in Croydon’s school choice program attend Newport Montessori School (NMS) and 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 school community was watching the House’s live stream of last Thursday’s vote. Here’s what she shared with us:
Imagine if you will our upper elementary students and middle school students gathered together in one room watching the live stream of the vote. When it was announced that it passed, the room erupted with shouts of glee and excitement! 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”. Many people will remember where they were and what they were doing on important dates in history. For me as an educator at the Newport Montessori School, I will remember yesterday afternoon for the rest of my days.
Let that sink in — children and teachers cheering for school choice and the impact it will have on their lives. This is why educational options are essential. It cannot be overstated.
It is also important to recognize that 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 have K-12 in-district. Croydon paved the way for these small communities.
Their program is a model to expand choice to more students who otherwise would not be able to access a better educational fit and for small towns to better manage financial responsibilities in the face of declining student enrollment and rising educational costs. There are a couple small communities that will consider similar school choice programs now that the bill clarifies NH statutes.
Senate Bill 8 is a win for small towns and children across the Granite State. It is expected that the Senate will concur with the House’s amendment and send the bill to the Governor’s desk. There will definitely be more cheering when town tuitioning becomes law.