New Hampshire Governor Signs Bill Protecting, Expanding Town Tuitioning

During his campaign, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu promised at a public hearing in Croydon that he would sign a bill protecting and expanding town tuitioning, and he kept his promise. Today, Gov. Sununu signed SB 8, a town tuitioning bill often referred to as “the Croydon bill,” and Croydon and other small towns are celebrating.

SB 8 clarifies that any town—not just towns that share a border with other states—may include non-religious private schools in their town tuitioning plans. Town tuitioning, a longstanding tradition in New Hampshire and other New England states, occurs when a district “tuitions out” students to public or private schools in surrounding towns and districts because their home district does not provide schools with the grades those students need.

An equivalent bill was sent to the governor’s desk last year; however, then-Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed it, claiming that a failure to exclude religious schools violated the state’s Blaine amendment. The current bill excludes religious schools, freeing legislators to deal with that issue in a separate fight.

The need for a bill like SB 8 arose when the New Hampshire Department of Education filed an injunction against Croydon, which had recently ended an exclusive contract with the “failing” Newport school district, for allowing parents to choose to have their children tuitioned out to private schools—something border towns have been doing for more than a century, and continued to do even as the laws were being chipped away for in-state private schools back in the 1950s. The Department had given Croydon permission to do it, so long as the schools were approved for attendance.  

The New Hampshire Superior Court initially denied a preliminary injunction, but later granted a permanent injunction, ruling that the words “but not” in the phrase “but not limited to public schools in other districts” could be ignored and that the Department’s administrative rules supersede the statutes that authorize them. The Town of Croydon appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, but the appeal was stayed until after the legislative session, and the need for a ruling was obviated when the governor signed the bill into law.

Croydon raised about $20,000 in private contributions to spare residents of this small town from having to pay the legal fees required to fight this battle (with EdChoice generously picking up costs exceeding that amount). New Hampshire also has at least 50 other small towns that will now be able to pursue a town-tuitioning plan like Croydon’s without having to fear similar lawsuits that aim to keep kids out of schools that best fit their needs.

This is a huge win for parents, who will now have more options and the opportunity to find the right educational fit for their children.