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Sununu signs school choice bill in Croydon ceremony

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signs a school choice bill on Thursday at the Croydon Village School. Jovelle Tamayo / Valley News

  • Valley News — Jovelle Tamayo Christy Whipple, principal of the Newport Montessori School, applauds as New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signs a school choice bill on Thursday at the Croydon Village School. Valley News — Jovelle Tamayo



Valley News
Thursday, June 29, 2017

Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday visited the Croydon Village School to sign legislation known as the “Croydon bill” that allows for some students to attend private school using public money.

More than 50 teachers, parents, children and school choice advocates crammed into the one-room K-4 schoolhouse that residents fondly refer to as “Little Red” in order to watch the event.

Now that Sununu has ratified the legislation – Senate Bill 8 – towns such as Croydon that lack a public school for certain grades may send their students to nonsectarian private schools and pay the tuition with tax dollars.

“Did they let you out of school today to come to this?” the governor asked a young boy, whose mother, Croydon School Board Chairwoman Angi Beaulieu, stood beaming behind him, before sitting down to sign the bill.

After a few remarks – “There’s just a lot of folks who don’t understand the uniqueness of a town like Croydon,” Sununu said – the governor drew a sheet of paper out of a red folder, signed his name, and enjoyed a round of whoops and applause.

The Croydon School District in 2014 began sending a handful of children to nearby private schools, at first Kimball Union Academy and Newport Montessori School, using public funds.

Although the association with KUA petered out, Croydon has continued to enroll students at the Montessori school, whose annual tuition runs about $8,200 compared to Newport public schools’ $12,000. Two of those children are the son and daughter of Beaulieu, the current Croydon School Board chairwoman, and a third is her nephew.

Once officials at the New Hampshire Department of Education caught wind of the practice, letter after letter arrived in the Croydon School Board’s mailbox calling the practice illegal and demanding that it stop.

Croydon did not stop. Instead, school board members engaged a lawyer – former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Chuck Douglas – launched an online crowdfunding campaign to pay him, and fought back.

State officials sued the Croydon School District in 2015, obtaining an order from a Superior Court judge to stop the practice. Croydon appealed to the state’s highest court.

Meanwhile, the Croydon bill was working its way through the Legislature, supported by a group of state lawmakers that included then-Rep. Frank Edelblut, a Republican running a strong primary campaign for governor.

Edelblut, who went on to become the state commissioner of education, later was revealed to have given $1,000 to Croydon’s legal fund – presumably while he was still a legislator, although he never specified when the donation took place.

Then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, vetoed the bill in 2016, expressing concern that it could hurt public schools.

This year’s version does exclude religious schools and includes a requirement that private schools administer educational assessments.

Around the time Hassan rejected the measure, Sununu visited Croydon during the campaign and, during a public forum with the school board, told residents he would sign the bill as governor.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court in April approved a stay of the tuition case as the latest iteration of the bill worked its way through the Legislature, and soon enough it reached Sununu’s desk.

The Croydon bill, Sununu said before signing it on Thursday, is “so vital, providing a lot of choice for families and individuals – not just here in Croydon but in a lot of towns across the state. It’s going to be real transformative.”