1-30-15 – School Choice Benefits Poor Families Most

posted by Rob Roper

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Kicking off what is National School Choice Week, the House Education committee took up H.38, a bill that would ban parents in Vermont’s 93 tuitioning towns from sending their children to out of state schools. Yes, the spirit of the week seems a bit lost on this crew.

Rep. Alison Clarkson (D-Woodstock), who sent her own sons to Groton, a prep school in Massachusetts, has sponsored a version of this bill three years in a row. She excused her hypocrisy by citing “family tradition.” Forget 150 years of Vermont tradition of letting tuition follow the child to the best school for that child.

However, the discussion regarding H.38 led to a broader discussion of school choice as a concept.

Rep. Sarah Buxton (D-Royalton) described her district, which is comprised of Royalton, a non-tuitioning town, and Tunbridge, a tuitioning town. “So when a parent can be in Tunbridge and send their child to KUA (Kimball Union Academy), and their sister wants to send her child to KUA, but lives in South Royalton, one family [in the non-tuitioning town] has to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year [to attend KUA]…. and the sister family in [the tuitioning town] doesn’t.”

Yes. The kids and families who live in tuitioning towns have vastly more and better options than those who don’t.

Buxton’s comments led the committee chair, David Sharpe (D-Bristol) to ask, “Are we bifurcating our school system so that wealthy Tunbridge kids get to go to Kimball Union?… Is there a bifurcation so that rich kids can and poor can’t?”

The answer is yes, but Sharpe seemed to have it backwards. The bifurcation exists in the non-tuitioning towns. To use the example Buxton set forth, all the kids in the choice-based tuitioning town of Tunbridge, rich and poor alike, could choose to go to Kimball Union in New Hampshire, or a local public school or another independent school such as Sharon Academy. But only the kids wealthy enough to afford the tuition could do the same if they are from non-tuitioning Royalton.

Rep. Curt Wright (R-Burlington) raised a critical question. “Obviously there’s some reason parents are sending their kids out of state.” The answer is that parents want what’s best for their kids, and many will go to extraordinary lengths to meet their kids’ educational needs.

Rep. Ann Manwaring (D-Wilmington) recounted, “In my two towns that have a high school, what will happen is … one of the parents rents a house in Londonderry or Winhall or something like that to go to Burr & Burton.”

Clarkson herself pointed out that residents of tuitioning towns are opposing her bill because, “One of the attractions of living in a tuitioning town is that there kids can go wherever they want. “

Shouldn’t every family in every town – rich and poor alike — have the same opportunities to send their kids wherever they want? Especially if it saves taxpayers money, as town tuitioning often does.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. www.ethanallen.org

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lorri Bovey February 1, 2015 at 1:29 pm

We have school choice in our town, which really is a poor town. My husband and I are not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. We have three children and each one has chosen the best school that fits their needs and educational goals. One school we did have to cover some of the tuition and our daughter received an phenomenal education and now is very successful in college. Every child should have the option of school choice. I fail to understand the obsession with funding just one option. And legislators need to understand by banning it , the rich will still be able to send their children to whatever school they desire. It is the poor and middle class that will lose again. But the Dems do love their hypocrisy and keeping in the rest of us in our place…..

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