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New Hampshire Eliminates Unconstitutional Restriction on School Tuitioning Program

Family who launched 2020 lawsuit to end exclusion of religious schools praises new law

CONCORD, N.H.—In a major win for educational choice, Gov. Chris Sununu yesterday signed a bill expanding the state’s town tuitioning program to include religious private schools. The tuitioning program empowers local school districts that do not operate public schools for certain grade levels to pay tuition for students to attend private schools or other public schools instead. Until today, the program did not permit school districts to pay tuition for families who wished to send their students to religious schools.

In September 2020, Dennis and Catherine Griffin of Croydon teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a lawsuit claiming that the restriction was unconstitutional discrimination under the First Amendment. The suit relied on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case which the Institute for Justice litigated on behalf of Montana parents.

“We are happy the legislature did the right thing in removing politics from school funding by allowing individual choice on how our tax dollars are applied to our children’s education,” said Dennis Griffin. “Cathy and I feel Mount Royal Academy is the best choice for our grandson’s education and the government should not be restricting the use of our tax dollars from funding our choice.”

Croydon, New Hampshire, does not operate a middle or high school. Dennis and Catherine’s grandson is a seventh-grade student at Mount Royal Academy, a local Catholic school. Because Mount Royal is a religious school, Dennis and Catherine were not eligible for any tuition assistance from the Croydon School Board under the former law—even though the school board wanted to pay the tuition and Mount Royal wanted to accept the tuition from the school board. The law signed by Gov. Sununu today achieves that goal and gives the Griffins a happy resolution to their fight to vindicate their First Amendment rights.

In the opinion for the Supreme Court in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that, “[a] State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” New Hampshire’s new law brings its tuitioning program in line with this important principle.

“IJ will continue to litigate to ensure that state governments are following the rule set out in Espinoza. It’s great when state governments join us—rather than oppose us—in that goal,” said IJ Attorney Kirby Thomas West. “This law will allow New Hampshire families in tuitioning towns to choose the best education for their children.”

The Institute for Justice, the nation’s leading legal advocate for educational choice, is currently defending choice programs in Nevada and Tennessee and is challenging the exclusion of religious schools from Maine’s town tuitioning program. Before Espinoza, IJ also won twice at the U.S. Supreme Court for educational choice on behalf of parents in defense of Cleveland, Ohio’s and Arizona’s educational choice programs.

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