Croydon School Board Prepared For School Choice Court Battle With State

Sep 25, 2015

Credit Indiana Public Media via Flickr Creative Commons

The chair of the Croydon School Board says the board is prepared to go to court over a school choice dispute with the state.

The attorney general’s office has given the board until Monday to stop using taxpayer money to send a small group of students to a private school, which the state says is illegal.

Board chair Jody Underwood tells NHPR's Morning Edition there are no plans to stop the practice, which she argues is allowed under state law.

She says if the dispute lands in court, the board will launch an online fundraising campaign to pay for legal expenses.

"We have received numerous emails or Facebook messages from people around the state saying they would support this, that they would like to contribute money because they think it’s a really important issue that school choice be opened up further than just public schools," she said.

The town has no school for students in grades 5-12, and has been offering parents the choice of sending their children to a private school since last year.

You can read the full transcript of Underwood's interview with NHPR's Morning Edition below:

Do you intend on complying with the state order?

To stop sending kids to private schools? No, we don’t.

Can you tell us why?

Sure. They sent us two letters over the last half year and in each of them, they cite parts of laws that seem to support their idea that we aren’t allowed to do it, that it’s illegal. But they’re leaving out other parts of laws that actually say it is legal. We think what we’re doing is legal, not just by our own reading of the laws, which, honestly, should be enough, but also through our lawyer, who’s also reading what they’re saying. The point is they’re leaving out some examples that show that what we’re doing is OK and according to law.

If the matter is about school choice, what’s stopping parents now from choosing private schools? Haven’t they always had that choice?

Only rich parents have that choice; poor parents do not. So this actually goes to exactly what you’re saying. Parents can decide best where their children should be in school, if they’re not performing well in a school, or for some reason they don’t like what they’re doing, testing for example. There’s this huge backlash about the Common Core testing and the Smarter Balanced assessments, and those parents are not given choices because they don’t have the money to send their kids to private schools.

Do you believe any child in any community in New Hampshire should have the right to have taxpayers pay for their private education?

In a perfect world, I’d say yes. Right now, there’s a law that’s pretty clear that says you can only send your kids to another school if you don’t have a school in your district that covers those grades. I would love to see that changed. If you really want kids to get an adequate education, the schools have to suit them.

How do you fund that?

You fund it in the same way. What we’re finding is private schools are cheaper than public schools, so that’s sort of easy.

We think what we're doing is legal, not just by our own reading of the laws, which, honestly, should be enough, but also through our lawyer.

What about when it comes to religious institutions? Would you support the same kind of rule when it comes to that?

Again, ideally, I would. The separation of church and state is interesting. I believe the state shouldn’t tell you what religious school to go to and allow you to choose the school that you want your kid to go to. I think that’s been turned on its head. So yes, I would. But I know it’s linked to the Constitution and that would be a huge effort to actually turn that around – I’m not saying we shouldn’t – but I’m personally just going to take one step at a time.

What happens come Monday?

Come Monday, our kids are going to continue going to private schools. They could have sent us that letter earlier in the summer, but they didn’t. They waited until after school started for that next letter from the attorney general’s office. They’re really not thinking about the kids.

So the legal battle will continue?

It will continue. And our town is wondering about whether we’re going to go to court or not. Again, nobody’s said anything about going to court, but they’re concerned about the cost. We have received numerous emails or Facebook messages from people around the state saying they would support this, that they would like to contribute money because they think it’s a really important issue that school choice be opened up further than just public schools. So I don’t think my town has a lot to worry about. If we have to go to court, we will start a GoFundMe campaign and get those donations.