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Croydon plans to fight Department of Education for school choice

Union Leader Correspondent

March 16. 2015 7:52PM

CROYDON — The School Board plans to challenge the New Hampshire Department of Education on its order that the Croydon School District stop tuition payments to private schools.

But School Board Chairman Jody Underwood said Monday any challenge should be funded privately — and can be because of the national support for school choice.

“School choice is a big national issue right now,” she said.

While SAU #43 is being allowed to pay the tuition for the rest of this school year, the district stands to lose up to $39,000 in state funds, Underwood said.

Croydon and Newport are both part of SAU #43. There had been a long-standing agreement that Croydon students would attend Newport schools after leaving Croydon Village School, a kindergarten through fourth grade school.

There are currently about 60 students from 5th to 12th grade in the district. Most go to Newport Middle/High School, Underwood said.

But since school choice became an option in the district in September, Croydon has been sending one student to Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, paying half of the approximately $30,000 tuition; three attend Newport Montessori at a cost of $8,200 each. It costs $15,000 a year to send a student to Newport, Underwood said.

Last month, Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry wrote to Cynthia Gallagher, superintendent of SAU #43, and said the practice of sending pupils to private schools using taxpayer funds is unlawful; the state ordered the SAU to stop.

Underwood said state law supports school choice and that there is precedent.

“There are communities on the borders of Vermont and Maine who send their kids to Vermont and Maine private schools. They are not controlled by the state Board of Education at all,” Underwood said.

Lyme has tuition agreements with both Thetford Academy and St. Johnsbury Academy, both in Vermont, she said. And several communities along the Maine border have tuition agreements with Fryeburg Academy in Maine.

Underwood said she plans to meet with a lawyer regarding the issue.

At the Croydon School District annual meeting Saturday, voters agreed to increase the school district legal fund from its typical $500 to $6,000, Underwood said. But that was mostly to address a separate issue with the state; a 2012 school tuition agreement was never approved by the state.

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