Back to School: NEO Families Speak Out
By Kate Baker
New Hampshire families and the business community are reaping the benefits of the state’s education tax-credit law, which boosts educational choice in the Granite State.
The modest awards derived from business contributions to The Network for Educational Opportunity (NEO) result in children attending schools with better educational settings and outcomes – not schools that fail to meet parents’ definition of the best available option. In its inaugural year NEO awarded more than 100 need-based scholarships totaling more than $100,000, no easy feat but one we consider praiseworthy.
NEO recently heard from its devoted community of scholarship families, and their opinions about NEO might surprise critics of the education tax credit. Time and again parents tell us they’re the ones best able to make decisions concerning their children’s education. So while it doesn’t bewilder us at NEO, we’d like to insert a few of our scholarship families’ experiences into the broader “back to school” media coverage we all enjoy reading. And we’ll do it in their words.
Ann Pinkham of Conway, single mom to Zac, who experienced difficulty due to inadequate discipline at the middle school level. Zac now attends The Community School (TCS) in South Tamworth. Ann speaks glowingly of the close-knit, respectful environment TCS fosters.
"I feel TCS is home schooling for those who are not able to provide it for their family. The school offers a unique environment that celebrates the student's individuality. The children take part in all aspects of their education including making and instituting rules, discipline, and educational class trip choices. Bullying is not tolerated. I feel lucky that we found the Community School!"
As for her financial situation, Ann is like many parents in that she’s determined to surmount virtually any obstacle that prevents her child from accessing the best education possible. "I have and will continue to borrow whatever it takes for my son to attend The Community School. The scholarship I received lessens the load," she said of her modest NEO award.
Kathy Bochinski of Derry, also a single mother, sends her daughter Ivy to Southern New Hampshire Montessori Academy (SNHMA).
SNHMA teaches Spanish in kindergarten, practical life lessons such as table setting, folding clothes, and cooking. Students’ wear unadorned uniforms to limit distractions and maintain the focus on learning; students participate in cleaning and maintain orderly classrooms, and assist their peers in learning so confidence among all increases. Despite its inclusion of music and the arts alongside rigorous academics, “SNHMA is not a school where,” Kathy wrote, “five and six year olds know who Justin Bieber is.”
Kathy’s financial situation due to the absence of Ivy’s father has been altered, and absence of funding such as scholarships, financial aid, and the like could mean Ivy would have to leave SNHMA.
Response to Critics
Unsurprisingly, recipients of NEO scholarships have a message for critics of the tax credit law that makes possible NEO scholarships. Some wrote to NEO with measured incredulity.
“I don't understand why people would be against helping families get the best education for their children other than not being informed enough, or having their political strings pulled,” wrote Lori McLaughlin of Franklin, mother of Samuel Peter.
“Would you want the best available for your own children?” she asked.
Other parents writing to NEO expressed hope for reconciliation between tax credit law supporters and detractors.
“Even if you despise or wholeheartedly disagree with the concept of school choice, I know that you care very deeply about the poor. This program is a creative, innovative, and cost-effective way to empower lower-income families to make choices for their children that will improve their standard of living now and in the years to come…a worthy goal we can all agree on,” wrote Megan Ebba of Barrington. Megan homeschools her daughter, Liberty, now using a greater array of up-to-date, unused learning materials thanks to a NEO scholarship.
Détente concerning NEO scholarships sourced from charitable giving that the hard-fought education tax credit permits is uncertain. What’s assured, however, is parents’ resolve to preserve their access to the scholarships.
“My daughter deserved to continue that level of education,” wrote Kathy, the single mom who sends her daughter Ivy to SNHMA. “As a single parent, tuition is difficult. There is a need for this assistance.”