It should be a no-brainer that every kid deserves a quality education, but imagine living in a school district that has no public school options for kids in certain grades. This is a somewhat common occurrence in some smaller, rural districts, and local officials are generally expected to provide families with—and pay for—viable alternatives. This was precisely the scenario in which school board officials in Croydon, N.H. paid tuition for some students to attend a private Montessori school in nearby Newport. And now the state government has officially sanctioned that arrangement.
The only school in Croydon, a tiny town of fewer than 800 people, is the red-brick, one-room Croydon Village School nicknamed “Little Red” by locals. When students graduated from Little Red, they used to be sent to public schools in Newport. But after a town vote in 2012, the school board launched a school choice program in which the town paid a set tuition amount for each student to attend a school that their family chose—even if that was a private school, like Newport’s Montessori.
Despite the community’s support for the program, the New Hampshire Department of Education declared the school choice program illegal and ordered the district to end it. The school board, where one member’s children attended the Montessori school, refused to comply, and the dispute went to court. But now that Gov. Chris Sununu has signed Senate Bill 8, which explicitly allows school districts to contract with private schools to fill gaps in public school offerings, the legal question is settled. Croydon officials can legally pay for local students to attend the Montessori school or other private options that can provide families with educational opportunities the district cannot.
While SB 8 is a major step forward for students in small towns and rural schools districts, Granite State lawmakers can still do more to allow better, more affordable academic options for all New Hampshire families. Families should be able to send their children to any of a broad variety of schools they determine to offer the best education.
Current state law extends tax credits to businesses that provide students with scholarships to private schools—a program that the Institute for Justice (IJ) successfully defended in court. But the New Hampshire General Court, the state’s legislature, imposes a statutory cap on the average value of scholarships per student and the overall value of tax credits available. Lifting these and other arbitrary restrictions would allow all New Hampshire students to pursue the most promising academic opportunities regardless of family income or zip code.
A more comprehensive approach to school choice reform would also free smaller, more rural districts like Croydon from the need to contract with other schools, public or private, or discriminate against potentially cheaper schools that may have religious affiliations.
IJ has worked for decades to promote school choice across the country. In dozens of lawsuits, IJ has protected school choice programs in Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere. IJ attorneys are also currently defending school choice from Florida to Montana, including a recent victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in a case about a private-public scholarship program for students in Colorado.