Thursday, March 16, 2023

NH: School Opponent Ousted From Board

It has been around a year since Free State Libertarians tried to defund public education in tiny Croydon, New Hampshire. This week, the citizens ousted the school board member who pushed the school-gutting plan through.

Ian and Jody Underwood moved to New Hampshire, part of the Free State movement that imagines that if they can get enough Libertarians to move to the Granite State, they can remake it in their own anti government image (read A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear for a fair and sometimes hilarious look at how it's going). Ian became a selectman, and Jody got on the school board. 

The district serves only about 80 students, and because it can't support more than a tiny elementary school itself, it has a model for what an honest-to-God school choice program would look like-- full tuition for students to attend the school of their choice. 

But that's expensive, and in a town hall meeting held during a blizzard, Ian sprung an unannounced motion from the floor--a 50% budget cut for education, based on just $10K per student. That's one of the lessons of Croydon--that folks on the far right are far less interested in actual school choice than they are in simply slashing government and taxes. 

That $10K did not come close to covering the tuition for the upper grade students. Newport's tuition rate is about to rise to $17,880. Private tuition costs are, with only two exceptions, also higher than the $10K. And of course the costs of special ed, transportation, and administration. So in the end, each student would not simply get a $10K pseudo-voucher from the school.

The Underwoods said it's all good. "This gives us an opportunity," said Jody. "This is going to force us to step back and figure out a good way to do this [based] on what we know about how people learn, so that we can keep costs down." Another board member cautioned against a "failure of imagination." Options like a virtual school or learning pods with new New Hampshire BFF Prenda were also tossed out.

People were pissed. The school board meeting two days later drew a crowd of 100 mostly-angry people, destined to be even more frustrated to learn that the budget passage was legal and binding and couldn't simply be reversed. 

That was not the end of the story. Residents were worked up, and they discovered that they could call a special meeting by petition. They went door to door. They held two calling events. They wrote letters to the editor. They enlisted assistance from surrounding communities, including teachers, administrators and boards of nearby districts.

Jody Underwood reportedly said the board had legal advice to not advertise the special meeting (she says she said no such thing). Meanwhile, Ian Underwood was blogging increasingly angry posts: parents don’t understand how children learn, the special meeting was actually not legal, the school district wanted to take money by force, and a piece in which he argues that majorities in a democracy are a big problem.

In the end, the budget was restored. (You can read my accounts of these events here and here--I did some actual reporting and talking to sources and everything). 

Folks on the winning side said they knew the fight wasn't over, and at the recent town meeting, they proved it. Angie Beaulieu was one of the architects of Croydon's choice plan, and pretty unhappy about the Underwood's plan. Beaulieu defeated Jody Underwood 229 to 36, as decisive a pasting as one could expect to see.  

Last year, Underwood insisted to me that she was misrepresented, that the budget cut was fair and square. She was not happy about being outmaneuvered by her fellow citizens a year ago, and I don't imagine she's any happier about this latest defeat. 

1 comment:

  1. So far as I know, if parents are unhappy with the public school, everybody has the right to either send their kid to a private school, or to 'home school' in most States. What they do not have the right to do is destroy the public education for other people's kids.