Threats to Vermont’s 140-year-old tradition of school choice lining up…

by Rob Roper

Vermont's tuitioning towns in green (map from School Choice Vermont)

In the Senate, Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), Harold Giard (D-Addison), and Mark McDonald (D-Orange) introduced S.44 – a bill that would force Vermont’s Approved Independent Schools to “comply with requirements relating to school quality, the provision of special education, and other issues imposed on public schools.” And, “any other federal requirement relating to public schools.”

In the House, Ann Mook (D-Bennington) is bringing forward h.170, which is essentially the same bill going one step further, disallowing tuitioning students to choose schools outside of Vermont.

These measures would, and are designed to, rip the heart out of Vermont’s most dynamic educational engines of opportunity and innovation. The whole point of being an “Independent” school is that you offer your students and their families something different. A law that forces one school to be just like every other school brings us to Henry Fords old version of choice, “You can have any color you like so long as it’s black.”

This would be a real crime. The tuitioning towns of Vermont should be a model for the rest of the state, not vice versa. The regions dominated by tuitioning opportunities have given rise to St. Johnsbury Academy, Burr & Burton, the Thetford Academy, Lyndon Institute, the Sharon Academy, the Long Trail School, and more, not to mention our internationally acclaimed Ski Academies.

Many of the Approved Independent schools are designed to serve children with special needs, and many deliver a superior educational experience for equal or less than the cost of a public school.

Some public school officials complain that it is not fair that they must compete with independent schools that have what they perceive as advantages. Of course, they don’t stop to consider that the advantages public schools have in being part of a taxpayer funded monopoly might just outweigh any benefit any independent school might enjoy.

What is most striking and disappointing about the sponsors of these bills is that they come largely from constituencies that have benefit of tuitioning choice (see map above) – and they are ignoring the voices of the people whom they are supposed to be serving. Here is what Ann Mook’s constituents came out to say about their school choice at a public forum in Bennington last year: VIDEO. And here is what Senator McCormack’s constituents came out to say in Springfield: VIDEO.