Educational Opportunity Scholarships in NH: the view from Elm Street

Part 2 of 2

After the hearing on the attempt to repeal New Hampshire’s educational tax credit law (see part 1), I was ready for a palate cleanser of sorts. I found one a few days later when the Network for Educational Opportunity (NEO) visited Liberty Harbor Academy on Elm Street in downtown Manchester.

I had seen NEO’s Kate Baker and Kathy Rago in Concord lobbying against repeal.  I found them again on February 2, with no evident fatigue from their uphill work at the State House, welcoming people to a NEO expo at LHA. Business was brisk, with representatives of fifteen schools greeting a stream of interested people.

NEO hopes to administer a scholarship fund that is in danger of being dissolved before it gets off the ground. Baker and Rago are undeterred. Their mission is to make school choice a practical reality for as many families as possible. The focus at the expo was on children, not politicians. Demand was obviously high for information about educational options, with or without an Educational Opportunity Scholarship plan. Dozens of parents, some with kids in tow, went from table to table for information and conversation.

Liberty Harbor Academy hosted the event at its unconventional facility on Elm Street.  It looks like a regular office building from the outside. Inside, past the bust of Thomas Jefferson, LHA students and faculty members were giving up a free Saturday in order to answer questions and to lead brief tours.  It was a splendid opportunity for an open house, and LHA made the most of it.

Most of those attending  were parents looking for the best “fit” for their children. Others had read about NEO and wanted to find out more. Bill Duncan was there as well. He is one of the plaintiffs described as a “public education advocate” in a lawsuit filed last month by the ACLU against the tax credit law. Yes, the tax credit is under attack on two fronts.

The Derryfield School, with yearly tuition well into five figures, had been mentioned at the hearing on HB 370 by a proponent of tax credit repeal: “do you really think a $2500 scholarship would make a difference there?” Obviously, a fair number of families are willing to find out. It’s also possible that some families hadn’t been aware of Derryfield. Either way, Derryfield got just as much attention at the expo as the Virtual Learning Academy Charter school, which is a public school free to all middle and high school students.

That illustrated an important facet of the expo. It wasn’t primarily a scholarship-selling program, although Baker led an information session at the expo for parents wanting to learn more about an Educational Opportunity scholarship and the business tax credit that could help fund it. Above all, the expo featured schools that parents might otherwise have missed. I’ve lived in this area for a long time, and some of the schools were new to me. Others had been just names on a sign to me – places I drove past on the way to somewhere else. Now, I’ve met some of the people who make each school unique.

For example, look at Jesse Remington High School, a small Christian school in Candia, a few miles east of Manchester. When the local newspaper offers coverage of area high schools’ graduations, Jesse Remington always seems to have the smallest class. No student is going to feel lost there. There’s no other school in greater Manchester quite like it.

The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School was one of two charter schools at the expo (the other being Polaris). Its unique online program has grown since 2005 from 700 “enrollments”  to over 15,000. VLACS is a free public resource, and yet many families still don’t know that it’s available.

Montessori schools. Catholic schools. Christian schools. Schools small and large, old and new: if the expo had been any larger, it could have been bewildering. Instead, there was a festive atmosphere in the room. I could see the enthusiasm on every face.

Kathy Rago made sure each guest left with a fleece scarf and bag emblazoned with the NEO logo. In a few days, she’ll be back in Concord to await the vote on HB 370. She was a state rep who chose to leave Concord in order to spend more time promoting school choice. From Elm Street, that looks like a good decision..

Schools with representatives at the February 2 NEO expo:

Beech Hill School

Classical Conversations

The Derryfield School

Grace Christian School

Green Valley School

Holy Family Academy

Jesse Remington High School

Liberty Harbor Academy

Mount St. Mary Academy

Mount Zion Christian School

Polaris Charter School

Southern New Hampshire Montessori Academy

Virtual Learning Academy

World Academy and Child Development Center

also: NH Families for Education

Author: Ellen Kolb

New Hampshire-based writer, pro-life activist, hiker.

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