The Bulletin Board

Sununu signs bill that clears way for public dollars to go to religious schools

By: - July 9, 2021 6:30 pm
Gov. Chris Sununu speaks outside

On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu signed HB 282, which allows school districts to contract with religious schools in tuition agreements. (Courtesy)

Gov. Chris Sununu has signed a bill allowing public school districts to send public money to religious schools, lifting a longstanding funding barrier.

House Bill 282 changes the rules around tuition agreements – the arrangements in which public schools send students in their district to other public or private schools to address capacity problems.

Currently, if a high school student lives in a town that doesn’t have a high school in its school district, the school board can contract with a school in another district and pay “tuition.” The agreement can be made between public or private schools, but the schools must be nonsectarian. 

HB 282, which takes effect Aug. 5, removes the nonsectarian requirement, allowing the school district to contract with religious schools as well. Those schools must still be approved by the sending district’s school board. 

The bill, which Sununu signed July 6, also allows school boards to give parents a choice from a list of schools rather than assigning the student to one school.

Democrats have assailed the bill as a violation of the New Hampshire Constitution, which holds in Article 6 of the state bill of rights that “no person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination.” 

Allowing school boards to use taxpayer dollars toward those schools would violate that provision, Democrats argued. 

“House Bill 282, signed the day after the 4th of July holiday, is a direct attack on our public education system and the New Hampshire Constitution,” said Rep. Mel Myler, a Hopkinton Democrat, in a statement Friday. “By removing the requirement that public tax dollars should go to nonsectarian schools, Governor Sununu has authorized money to be funneled to religious schools for tuition payments.”

But Republicans said it was intended to provide parents and school boards with more options.

“It gives to the local school district the option of doing what is best for the students in that district,” said Sen. Bob Giuda, a Warren Republican, during a debate earlier this year. “Removing an option is to deny any sense of responsibility for the school board in making a righteous choice for the citizens and children of that community. This is a local control issue.”

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.