A debate for Vermont: Is the ‘refugee cap’ a serious problem for Vermont schools?

Editor’s note: This is Part 2 in our Debate for Vermont Series.

By Jay Eshelman

In a recent Seven Days article (“Burlington-Area Schools See Declining Enrollment in ELL Programs”), public schools lament declining English Language Learning (EEL) enrollments because Vermont’s refugee populations are decreasing.

Across Vermont, schools have been shrinking, [ELL instructor Beth Evans] pointed out. Although Burlington has been bucking the trend, Evans noted, ‘If you shut off the flow of refugees, the school population, I believe, will shrink.’

The article goes on to say:

The refugee cap doesn’t only preclude children from getting an education and their families from taking jobs that many U.S.-born residents avoid, Evans observed. ‘It’s not good for Burlington; it’s not good for the high school,’ she said.

Readers should consider this: Citing the “refugee cap” as a major concern is misleading. We can’t be sure why the English Language Learning (ELL) programs are losing students. After all, in May the State Department quietly lifted its refugee restrictions. As reported in the New York Times, “Refugee groups now predict that entries into the United States could increase so rapidly that the total number of refugees admitted by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, could exceed 70,000. That is well below the 84,994 refugees admitted in fiscal year 2016, but not by nearly as much as many advocates had feared.”

So, even if enrollments fluctuate over time, why are Vermont’s public schools claiming that refugee caps are the culprit? For whatever the reason, Vermont’s ELL program is losing students, as are most of Vermont’s public schools. To this reader, the fine print in the Seven Days article exposes the education establishment’s real concern: that declining enrollments across the board will eventually preclude Vermont’s public school monopoly from employing so many teachers.

And who are the Vermonters that “avoid” taking the jobs refugees take, as referenced in the article’s dubious logic? There are the approximately 49,000 Vermonters between the ages of 18 and 65 who aren’t working. Why aren’t school administrators concerned with them? Answer: because those 49,000 Vermonters are being written off. They’ve already been through school, and they don’t represent potential income to the public school monopoly that, in all likelihood, failed them in the first place.

Is it any wonder parents are skeptical and moving away or choosing not to use Vermont’s public schools? Just how tone deaf can Vermont’s school administrators be?

The article goes on to exclaim:

Despite the lower ELL enrollment in Burlington schools, there will be no reductions in teachers, paraeducators or multilingual liaisons, according to Miriam Ehtesham-Cating, director of programs for English learners in the district.

Surely Vermonters must recognize the inherent unwillingness and/or inability of the public school monopoly to trim costs and taxpayer burdens in the face of the declining enrollments that occur for whatever reason. Act 46 aside, soliciting refugees isn’t going to remedy that.

What do you think, True North readers? Is the “refugee cap” a serious problem, or is the unwillingness to trim costs in the face of declining enrollments the reason why Vermont’s education and taxpayer burdens continue to increase? Sound off with your comments below.

Jay Eshelman is a former school board director and business owner living in Vermont.

4 thoughts on “A debate for Vermont: Is the ‘refugee cap’ a serious problem for Vermont schools?

  1. The refugee cap a problem with Vermont schools? No. It is the teachers’ greed. When over 70% of your property tax goes to teacher pay and teacher benefits and the kids get what is left over, it can’t be more clear, can it?

  2. If the population does not justify a school, there is no need for one. Demographics change and bringing in immigrants is not going to solve it. That in and of itself produces more problems.
    I enjoy reading True North Report because our problems seem to be universal regardless where we live.

  3. In Rutland the school administration and the VTNEA was all behind the refugee proposal,for the very reasons you suggest in your article. It was an educator full employment strategy in the face of rapidly declining population and enrollment in Rutland.
    I don’t think that immigration would reverse the school population enough to matter, but the increased costs of educating ELL and special needs families would have likely maintained or increased the staffing levels.

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