Thursday, December 3, 2015

Our Turn: School choice matters, so drop Croydon lawsuit | Concord Monitor

Our Turn: School choice matters, so drop Croydon lawsuit | Concord Monitor

Our Turn: School choice matters, so drop Croydon lawsuit

New Hampshire parents want the best for their children, and that includes a great K-12 education.

The state’s public schools provide a
conducive learning environment for most of its children, but for some
children, the local school does not meet educational needs. They are at
increased risk of falling behind or, worse, not graduating high school.
For these children, an alternative
learning environment is necessary. For some with special needs, this
means taxpayer-funded placement in a private school designed to provide
an appropriate learning environment structured to best meet the child’s
physical and educational needs. For others, a nearby chartered public
school provides the learning environment best suited for the child. And
for some, school districts wanting the best for their children have
contracted with private schools. Coe-Brown and Pinkerton Academy are
examples where public funds pay tuition for students attending these

Our own former governor John Lynch
actively encouraged expanding alternative education programs during his
eight years as governor. In his April 10, 2009, letter to the people of
New Hampshire, Lynch said: “Since becoming governor of New Hampshire, I
have made it a top priority to help every young person graduate from
high school, including working to pass legislation to increase the
compulsory attendance age and expanding alternative education programs
for at-risk students.”
His concern to reduce the state’s drop-out
rate led to changes in the state’s Department of Education and
legislative initiatives providing alternative K-12 educational
opportunities for children.

School choice: It’s not a partisan issue.
Democrat and Republican legislators have long recognized that for New
Hampshire to maintain its high standard of living, and provide the best
environment in which to raise a family, a great education for all
children is paramount. That’s why education laws are specifically
designed as a state-local partnership – where there’s a shared
responsibility between state and local government to provide a K-12
education for children.

RSA 193-E:1, II states: “In this system,
the state establishes, through school approval and student proficiency
standards and curriculum guidelines, the framework for the delivery of
educational services at the local level. School districts then have
flexibility in implementing diverse educational approaches tailored to
meet student needs.”

State law limits authority of the state
government to educational standards and guidelines while authorizing
local school districts (parents, teachers and school administrators)
tremendous flexibility in providing diverse educational opportunities
that best meet the individual needs of their children. That flexibility
includes the legal authority for school districts to contract with
private schools to educate their children. Indeed, RSA 194:22 clearly
states, “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.”

The Croydon School District recently
determined that a few of its children were at-risk. These children were
struggling in the traditional public school setting. School board
officials, parents, teachers, school administrators and taxpayers came
together in the best interest of these children and offered alternative
educational opportunities for these students. The district used its
legal authority to contract with a few nearby private schools.

The district pays tuition for these
students (which is about half the cost per student of the traditional
public school). By all accounts, these children are now thriving in
their alternative education setting.

Then why, Gov. Hassan, Attorney General
Foster and Commissioner of Education Barry, are you interfering with the
Croydon School District’s lawful practice to provide its children with
educational opportunities that best meet each child’s needs? Why are you
taking the Croydon School District to court and suing the good people
of Croydon, who just want to exercise their legal right to provide the
best educational opportunities for their children? Croydon is not a
large school district with a large tax base and financial resources to
mount a prolonged defense against state resources.

If you use the power of the state to
override the will and wisdom of the people of Croydon to end school
choice there, you threaten every district and child in the state. Each
child in New Hampshire could suffer lifelong consequences of being
forced into an educational environment that fails to meet their needs.
Therefore, we urge Gov. Hassan, Attorney General Foster, and
Commissioner Barry to support the good people of Croydon. End the
lawsuit. Not only for the future of these children, but also the future
of New Hampshire.
(Rep. Greg Hill lives in Northfield. Rep. JR Hoell lives in Dunbarton. Former representative Michael Balboni lives in Nashua.)

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