Croydon, kindergarten funding bills clear House

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Published: 6/1/2017 11:33:14 PM

After months of re-writes and negotiations, two blockbuster education bills sailed through the House on Thursday, and they’ll now head back to the Senate.

House members voted across party lines to resoundingly pass Senate Bill 8 – which would allow school districts to tuition students to private schools – and Senate Bill 191, which would establish a keno gambling program and use its proceeds to give districts who offer full-day kindergarten an extra $1,100 in per-pupil aid. SB 191 passed, 231-100, and SB 8 passed, 210-147.

SB 8 was heavily rewritten in the House Education Committee in an attempt to head off constitutional concerns raised by the state attorney general’s office. It excludes religious schools, and requires annual standardized testing in math, science and reading for tuitioned students.

“I worked hours, hours, hours with attorneys from the attorney general’s office, from other attorneys, from the Department of Education, the commissioner of education to ensure that there is an accountability system built in,” House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Rick Ladd said.

But a majority of Democrats still opposed the bill. North Hampton Democratic Rep. Tamara Le said it siphoned increasingly scarce public money to private schools that can legally decline to educate more difficult students, including those with disabilities.

“SB 8 furthers a troubling trend to underfund and cripple New Hampshire public schools. From devastating cuts to adequacy, catastrophic aid and building aid, the outcomes of the bill will continue to deconstruct education in New Hampshire by giving precious public funds to schools with little or no accountability,” Le said.

SB 8 is often referred to as the “Croydon bill.” A state Supreme Court case between the Department of Education and the Croydon school board is pending, awaiting the outcome of the session.

The state sued Croydon when the school board refused to stop tuitioning students to a nearby private Montessori school, and won in superior court. Croydon appealed.

The Croydon bill will likely get through the Senate and then head to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk. A vocal proponent of school choice, Sununu said in a statement he looked forward to signing the legislation.

“Parents, children and school districts must have the ability to choose the education path that is best-suited for them, and this legislation will ensure that small school districts have flexibility in choosing that path. This bill will not only resolve Croydon’s situation but will also benefit more than a dozen small districts across the state,” he said.

SB 191 is likely headed for a committee of conference. The Senate has twice this session voted positively on different proposals to fund full-day kindergarten, but repeatedly rejected keno, an electronic gambling game.

The bill gives towns the choice of whether or not to allow businesses within their borders to operate the game, and is expected to raise about $9 million in annual revenue.

That’s about as much as the $1,100 proposal per student would cost the state, at current enrollments.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)




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