by Rob Roper
Greg Clark, a public school teacher and representative from Vergennes, is preparing to introduce comprehensive school choice legislation. Clark’s bill will expand school choice opportunities, at least at the high school level, and authorize the creation of charter schools.
The most controversial part of Clark’s proposal, which he acknowledges, is that it would even allow religious affiliated approved independent schools such a Rice High School in Burlington to compete for and accept taxpayer funded students.
“The school system needs to be a lot more nimble,” Clark explained, “while at the same time making sure that every student gets an opportunity to get the best education that they can…. [My bill] gives people a chance to go to other schools that might better fit their needs, and I see absolutely no reason why the state of Vermont or anybody in the state should be afraid of doing this. I think in the 21st century we ought to be doing everything we can to help kids get as good an education as they can, and if that means having a choice of more than one place, then why wouldn’t we encourage that?”
The fact is that Vermont needs to find cheaper ways to deliver higher quality education and Vermont’s Catholic schools have a tested, successful business model for delivering top outcomes for less money. For that reason alone they should be included in our taxpayer funded education portfolio.
Clark says his bill deals with the constitutional questions regarding church and state by funding only 75% of the tuition for religious schools. Parents would have to pay the other 25%, presumably the portion devoted to religious instruction. “This is a possibility that the supreme court left open, at least to be considered,” he says.
Asked why he feels so passionately about school choice, Clark answered, “I’ve seen a lot of kids come through classes at Mt. Abe that might very well be more successful in a different setting. And that is not to say that anything’s wrong with Mount Abe, it’s a great school and we do a good job, but there are those kids who may very well want another setting.”
Clark acknowledges that given the ideological makeup of the legislature it will be a battle even to get a hearing for this bill. “But, I want to get some democrats on this bill because I think you’ll find this is not a partisan issue. This ought to be something that a majority of people support just because, if, in fact, it’s all about the kids… then lets give these kids the opportunity – the chance to succeed.”
Rep. Clark has sixteen co-sponsors on his bill so far. According to the I Vote School Choice survey, roughly 28 house members elected in 2010 responded favorably to the school choice and charter school questions (most candidates did not respond at all).