You may remember Jody Underwood and Croydon, New Hampshire. It's a story worth revisiting, because it tells us what may be down the road for some of the most extreme MAGA education policies.
The tiny town of Croydon was the scene of more than one big dustup over education. A few years ago it was the scene of a move to push school choice in the state. Underwood and Angi Beaulieu were among the advocates who pushed for a voucher system which allowed students from tiny towns like Croydon to have tuition paid to a school of their choice. In fact, the vouchers-for-some bill was called the Croydon Bill, and Governor Chris Sununu came to Croydon to sign it in 2017.
This was a true voucher program. Not a "here's a couple thousand bucks, good luck finding a place to get your kid an education" program, but a mechanism by which local taxpayers footed the full bill for an education at any public or private school they could get into (that included the school in nearby Claremont, where I started out life). It was not cheap; the taxpayers in the 800 person town paid $1.7 million for a local K-4 school and vouchers for the older students (80 students in all); it's more than they spend to run the town.
Then, in early 2022, at a low-attendance annual town meeting, Jody Underwood, the school board chair, recognized her husband Ian from the floor, and he moved to cut the budget to $800K. The motion passed, and suddenly tiny Croydon was up in arms.The Underwoods are part of the Free State Project, founded in 2001 with the intent of moving 20,000 Libertarians to New Hampshire with the hope that they might have an outsized influence on the small-population, liberty-loving state. Free Staters have been successful in landing elected offices in New Hampshire, even at the state level (most elected offices in the state are unpaid). Granite State Matters just released a paper about the FSP's progress dismantling democracy in New Hampshire.
The Underwoods came to Croydon in 2007. Before moving, Jody had worked for the Educational Testing Service, and before that a researcher for NASA and Carnegie Mellon University. Her LinkedIn profile lists her as the Lead Learning Scientist for Intelligent Automation, Inc--that's Blue Halo, a company that works in the defense industry sector, and she has some legit credits in the AI world way before it was cool. Ian was a "planetary scientist and artificial intelligence researcher for NASA," a certified hypnotherapist, a "fourth generation wing chun sifu," as well as director of the Ask Dr. Math program.
Asked by the Valley News what her plans were, Underwood offered this:
The first piece focuses on Croydon schools, which represent a spectacularly tiny sample. The school has two classrooms--K/1 and 2-4. The principal teaches the 2-4 and the other teacher handles special ed. So it's not clear what is to be learned by studying their collective test results. But what Underwood arrives is the notion that it's that damn Fountas and Pinnell and what we need in here is some science of reading stuff.