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Croydon Bill Clears Committee; House Panel Nixes Money for Religious Schools, Adds Standardized Tests

Concord Monitor
Published: 5/17/2017 12:00:12 AM
Modified: 5/17/2017 11:47:39 AM

Concord — The so-called Croydon bill is getting closer to the finish line, with the House Education Committee on Tuesday recommending an amended version of Senate Bill 8 in a 13-6 vote.

“It’s like light-years’ difference between the way this bill came to us — either in (House Bill) 557 or SB 8,” committee Chairman Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, said of the school choice bill’s many rewrites. “There’s been a lot of communication going on between parties, both sides of the Legislature, attorneys, and the (state) Department (of Education) on this.”

The bill now will head to the full House, where it is expected to pass.

The session began with two school choice bills — SB 8 and HB 557, both of which would allow school boards to contract with private schools to tuition students in grades that the district doesn’t teach.

The Attorney General’s Office, among others, had raised constitutional concerns about both bills, and lawmakers in the Senate education committee held back HB 557 in expectation that the House committee would have more time to craft the necessary amendments onto SB 8, said Sen. David Watters, D-Dover.

As amended, SB 8 excludes religious schools, a key concern raised by the Attorney General’s Office.

The bill now also requires private schools that accept publicly funded tuition students to administer annual standardized tests in math, English and science to those students. The aggregate scores would be reported to the commissioner of education and the local school board.

If tuitioned students at private schools score in the 40th percentile or below, the commissioner can order a review of the school to see if it’s delivering an adequate education, according to the bill.

Still, a majority of the Democrats on the committee objected to the amended bill, saying it ceded responsibilities previously held by state officials to local boards and didn’t do anything to protect against private schools’ discriminating against children with disabilities while receiving public dollars.

“There’s nothing in here that instills that private institutions are responsible for being approved along IDEA standards,” said Rep. Tamara Le, D-North Hampton, referring to a federal disability rights law.

Ladd countered that school boards could build protections for students with disabilities into their contracts with private schools. And he said that private schools were a necessary option for certain communities.

“We have public schools which are failing. We have some public schools that are excellent. And we have a majority that are just doing a great job. But we have some, we know, that are not providing what I would call the ‘adequate education,’ we’d like them all to see,” he said. “I would hope that my child would not be mandated to attend a failing school.”

Two Democrats, Barbara Shaw, of Manchester, and Linda Tanner, of Georges Mills, broke party lines to vote along with the Republican majority on the committee to recommend the bill to the full House.

“Putting my faith in the local control, yes,” Tanner said as she cast her vote.

Education commissioner Frank Edelblut, who, as a Republican state representative, had previously sponsored similar legislation, worked hand-in-hand with Ladd on the bill’s amendment over the weekend.

“This is Frank’s bill,” Ladd told education department staff members and Republican state Sen. Ruth Ward while the committee was briefly in recess before the vote.

If the bill passes the House, the state’s senators will have to decide to proceed with the House’s changes.

A case before the state Supreme Court between the school board in Croydon and the department of education is pending, awaiting the outcome of the session.

The state sued the Croydon school board after discovering they were tuitioning students to a private Montessori school, and won in Superior Court.

Croydon appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to pause proceedings in anticipation of legislative action this year.

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