Commentary

Dame: While Dems control State House, real school choice only for the wealthy

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By VTGOP Chairman Paul Dame

For the past 12 years states from around the country have been taking time to recognize the critical impact that school choice has on the lives of young students.  Republican Gov. Phil Scott has named this week “School Choice Week” here in Vermont.

Vermont has had a unique and complex relationship with school choice over the years.  We were the first state in the country to grant educational access as a right enshrined in our constitution.  But the rural landscape and decentralized government we have in the late 1700s created some unique challenges which led to innovative choice-centered solutions.

Students in some parts of our state live in an area where a private school was initially founded by private philanthropists before any significant public work on education could begin.  And those Vermonters (being the thrifty yankees that we are) decided it would be foolish to start from scratch and take taxpayer money to compete with such an excellent school.  If you can’t beat them, join them.  So a number of independently operated schools around the state end up serving as the default public option for students.

A number of towns used to be known as “tuition towns” where the population was usually small enough that it didn’t really make sense to create their own public school, and the geography of some mountain towns, along with the high quality public & private schools in the valleys led towns people to come to the same conclusion to not reinvent the wheel, but to allow parents to choose which nearby school they wanted to send their kids to, and they just paid a fixed tuition to that school.

More recently a court challenge to Vermont’s prohibition on tuition going to religious school has been struck down.  And for the first time Vermonters are able to ensure their education tax dollars follow the student to the school best suited for them.

We have a rich history supporting school choice which has been grounded in yankee pragmatism.  When most private schools are providing a similar or higher quality education for sometimes half or even one fifth of the cost of our public schools – why wouldn’t we give parents the choice, and taxpayers the needed break?

The fundamental question is do we want a system that supported the institution of public education – or are we trying to achieve a more educated public?  Our current system ensures the former, while leaving the latter in doubt. 

Private schools must provide value to keep enrollment.  They must meet the demands of parents, and adapt to those demands as they change.  Public schools have no such accountability – at least not for low and middle-income families.

The wealthiest Vermonters already have school choice – and they always will.  Broadening School Choice is one of the most important efforts we can undertake that will actually achieve equity, and it which will have a long lasting impact for decades to come. Our entire society will benefit if we can offer to low and middle class students the same opportunities their wealthy classmates have access to.  And statistics show that doing so would likely reduce taxpayer cost and improve the quality of education.

But as long as Democrats have control of the State House, they will never give school choice to anyone but the wealthiest Vermonters.  This is why we need to recruit Republicans for every House and Senate seat in the State – and why we also need to help them win.  We need to support her allies in the School Choice movement, like the ones speaking at a luncheon on Thursday.  School Choice is an equalizer that empowers parents – not bureaucrats.  And it was the issue that helped Republicans flip the Virginia Governor’s offices, as well as their House of Delegates.  It could be the kind of issue that could help Republicans win in districts like Burlington or Winooski.

While Vermont has old roots in providing school choice to its children, those roots don’t mean much if we don’t continue to grow and bear more fruit.  There is greater progress for us to make in order to give greater choice to an even greater number of Vermont kids.  And the Vermont Republican Party stands ready to recruit candidates and volunteers who want to join us in this effort to empower parents and voters.

8 replies »

  1. I think that the problem lies in how public schools are run as opposed to who can and can’t afford private schools…We shouldn’t even need private schools if public schools are run properly…The fact that we have private schools tells us there’s a problem with Public schools…That problem could be addressed by not electing public school boards, as elections invite politics, but rather like our jury system or something similar to a military draft, appoint persons at random from our communities to sit on boards for a select period with compensation. At the same time, giving them the same opportunities to opt out should they be unable to serve for personal reasons…It’s the politics that has killed off our sense of duty to our children and placed it in politically & socially divisive education…As well, the greater good or ideals of the community are neglected by our current system of elected educational boards…As per example, we’re being told by political board members that CRT is the way to go despite the greater percentage of the parents being against it. Despite this, school boards are teaching it anyways behind the backs of parents…This is why boards can’t be elected….We must have true community participation in our local school’s activity…Not elected political hacks who bring partisan politics into our education system.

  2. Re: “We shouldn’t even need private schools if public schools are run properly…”

    But how should a public school be ‘run properly’? What makes an elected school board any different from an appointed schoolboard? Who does the appointing?

    Keep in mind that your idea of what is the ‘greater good’ or the so-called ‘ideals of the community’ may not be the same idea your neighbor has. Why must we have ‘community participation’ in the first place? Your community? … or my community? What about home schooling?

    No two people will ever agree 100% on what a ‘properly’ run school is. It’s the elegance of our U.S. Constitution and the free market it enables that balances the collective and the individual. Of course, we can have collectives (i.e. ‘communities’ – public schools or independent schools). But without the individual right to choose the community in which we want to participate… it’s totalitarianism… elected or appointed.

    Let the free market determine what a properly run school is. Then we can choose the school that we believe best meets the needs of our children. No politics! Vote with your tuition dollars.

  3. If no two people will ever agree on what a properly run school is, how is it we have schools at all then?…Our jury system in this country is what makes our country one of the most just systems in the world…People chosen from a voters roll…If those people can be entrusted with a persons life, I’d rather them then a politician open to bribes or preordained philosophies which few in the community share…it’s a lot harder to buy a jury….By the way…Pornography is labeled such by community standards….I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution, but politics needs to get out of education until students have a basic understanding of the world…And CRT is both political and highly impactive on a young child’s mind for life.

  4. There is a given amount of money spent per student in every school district every year. That money needs to follow the student to whichever school he and his parents choose. Then poor performing schools will have no students and no money. Stop subsidizing poor performance with true school choice.

  5. The educational choice discussion seems to focus on families having their resources restored so they can choose among schools. This is choice among institutions/organizations. My fantasy choice aspirations don’t start with schools. They start with families in the ascendant role of educators for their children. The families’ choice would be, what teachers do they want, what content do they want taught, in what environment and under what conditions do they want this instructional/schooling service to take place? Families have a la carte needs and teachers have a la carte skills. If released from their institutional bondage (NEA/AFT; Government School) teachers would have answers to these family questions. They would function as independent contractors or incorporate to use the remnants of our present (failing) schools to suit the needs of their customers, THE FAMILIES.

  6. BEWARE: the money follows the student is dangerous. As soon as private takes govt money in this manner, they can dictate what private school does, teaches, employs, has in handbook etc. I cannot figure out why this is so challenging to grasp.

    My children attend private. We are very much middle income. I was home with the children and when youngest began I took a part time (vs per diem) job to make this possible. Many of the families would give similar testimony that they made sacrifices to make it work.

    We very much do NOT want govt money involved in our school. That is why we choose to send our children there. We don’t have to participate in any of the indoctrination that the govt schools were designed to do (from the beginning. We are simply seeing the fruits of many decades is labor ). Our children have had limited and close to ZERO change in their school lifestyle since the pandemic. That would not have been the case, sadly, if money followed the student.

    My tax bill is the same as my tuition to send our kids to private. The ed% of my tax bill would cover 2/3 of private tuition. I want none of it. It would completely ruin the idea and reason that many of us have made this decision.

    It is important to note that tuition is about 1/5 if what the public school per pupil cost is. Having sent one through govt schools and the others with partial time in govt, there is no comparison as to the quality of education. It is not even close.

    We need to defund the system to see any change and the way to do that is for parents to pull their children from public. But pulling the children and simply redirecting the money will just make a bunch of smaller (former private) public schools that will soon have to capitulate to the gov demands.

  7. Have you ever heard of the camel who put his nose under the tent, only to find him in the tent?

    When has government ever given money that had no strings attached? Beware, be wise and don’t be foolish enough to think they will not encroach on your liberty and freedom to teach what you want to. Little by little, they will inch their way into your “tent”. Say “no” to school choice and take absolutely nothing from the government. “Nothing is free!”.

    We left public schools for a reason; homeschoolers fought for the freedom to homeschool back in the 80’s. (The same goes for those of us who put our children in private schools). We paid our taxes, and were content to do so, if they left us alone. The BIG THEY will start regulating what you do and how you do it and what you teach. When we homeschooled, we paid our taxes, but chose to buy our own supplies and curriculum, and even if they were bare bones, we felt it was better then what we received at the public school. We were warned to not take any government money, or they would start regulating us. Do not be foolish enough to think that school choice will solve school issues or reduce taxes. “They” will regulate you, come into your school buildings, examine your curriculum etc. I know for a fact that some private schools will bend over backwards to help poor families with tuition.

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