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Croydon Tuition Bill Vetoed

  • New Hampshire Gov.Maggie Hassan speaks during an opioid abuse conference Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/10/2016 1:09:22 AM
Modified: 6/10/2016 1:30:37 AM

Concord — Gov. Maggie Hassan on Thursday vetoed a bill that would allow New Hampshire towns such as Croydon to send students to private institutions using public funds.

The bill, which passed the Legislature this week, would have allowed municipalities to use tax money to send students to an approved private school if the town doesn’t have a public school covering their grade. The Croydon Village School is K-4, and the Croydon School Board has been fighting a legal battle with state officials over the children it has been sending to the private Newport Montessori School.

Hassan on Thursday called the bill “unconstitutional,” saying it would erode the state’s educational services, and refused to sign it.

“Not only is the bill unconstitutional, it also has no mechanism to ensure a student’s constitutional right to the opportunity to receive an adequate education and would undermine the state’s efforts to ensure a strong and robust public education system for all New Hampshire students,” Hassan said in her veto statement.

Republican leaders in the Legislature struck back immediately.

House Majority Leader Richard Hinch, R-Merrimack, said he was “deeply disappointed” that Hassan was “playing politics” rather than giving parents the choice of where to place their children.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Reagan, a Deerfield Republican whose panel oversaw the bill’s passage, also criticized the governor, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., on Thursday, saying she was meddling with local oversight.

“The state should not be interfering in local control of our schools,” he said in a statement, “especially when a duly elected school board in a town without a school finds it best to tuition their students to nearby educational institutions of their choosing.”

Yet one of the bill’s sponsors, state Rep. Jim Grenier, R-Lempster, said he had anticipated Hassan’s reaction.

“I knew she was going to,” he said over the phone Thursday afternoon.

Grenier, a former town official in Croydon decades ago, pointed out that the bill nearly died on the Senate floor a month ago after legislators appeared unable to agree on whether private schools receiving public-school students should also have to conduct standardized tests.

The Senate finally passed the bill after adopting an amendment that called for such assessments, but the language was stripped away later when House members objected.

“So for that reason,” Grenier said, “we anticipated that (Hassan) would say, ‘Well, there’s no accountability there.’ ”

He predicted the veto would be final.

“I’m sure we’ll pick this up and try to override it, but I’m not sure we have the votes,” he said.

Jody Underwood, chairwoman of the Croydon School Board, heard the news over the phone Thursday from a reporter.

“That makes me sad,” she said. “I just don’t understand it. It makes me think that (Hassan’s) not thinking about the children.”

Contrary to Hassan’s assertion, Underwood argued, diverting students to private schools wouldn’t undermine the public school system — it would create competition, she said, and force public institutions to lower costs and improve services. 

But another member of the Senate Education Committee, David Watters, D-Dover, stood behind the governor, saying the bill had been “hijacked” by school-choice proponents who removed the requirements his committee had added.

“I thought that Senator Reagan and the rest of us in Senate Education worked hard to provide provisions in the bill that would satisfy requirements for education,” he said, speaking of curriculum and testing standards. “The bottom line was that, if we’re spending public dollars, we ought to have an adequate education. That’s what the constitution requires.”

“I support the governor’s veto here,” Watters added. “I think it needed to be done, but that we also need to come back” and find a way to give towns with limited public schools options for tuitioning their students elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Underwood’s board is fighting the New Hampshire Department of Education in court over the handful of students it sends to private school, including two children of a sitting board member. 

Both sides argued their cases before the Sullivan County Superior Court in March, and a final ruling is still pending, according to court clerks.

The bill’s many sponsors included Democratic Sullivan County Reps. Suzanne Gottling and Virginia Irwin. 

Grenier said he hoped to work with them to bring the legislation back during the next session.

“I’m going to do two more years, assuming they elect me, and I think I might bring it up with some of the local reps,” he said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.




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