One State School District? It Depends.

January 14, 2019

by Rob Roper

Someone leaked a memo from the Scott Administration proposing some pretty big changes to the structure of the Vermont public school system, including the adoption of one, statewide, school district, universal school choice including approved independent schools, a statewide teacher contract, and the elimination of the State Board of Education. The Scott folks say this is not a proposal, just some thoughts designed to spark debate. Okay, let’s debate!

Universal, statewide school choice including independent schools is a great concept. The caution here is that, in the language of the memo, the Department of Education would determine which independent schools would be allowed to participate. Now it is a disinterested third party, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, that accredits independent schools for tuitioning purposes based on merit (meeting certain criteria). Allowing a political agency to cut out certain independent schools “just ‘cuz” should not be a part of any reform. “Universal school choice” is only a benefit when the system allows for many different choices.

One statewide school district might or might not be a good idea, depending upon how it is implemented. If the objective is to eliminate a lot of the mid-level bureaucracy at the supervisory union level while – and this is key – devolving decision-making power back to local principals and local, volunteer school boards, this would be great. However, if the idea is to consolidate power and decision making in Montpelier, then, no, this is not a good idea.

A statewide school district run by the Agency of Education and overseen by the legislature, with limited authority, such as setting and funding a per-pupil tuitioning rate and monitoring statewide student testing, could be a less costly, more efficient improvement. It remains to be seen, however, if the Agency and the legislature would, indeed, back off and allow individual schools to innovate on their own. If the result is local schools being run from Montpelier, then no thanks.

How would a statewide teachers’ contract fit into this dynamic? If you have universal school choice including independent schools, a statewide teachers’ contract makes little sense. Individual schools would need more flexibility, not less, to compete with one another for students.

As for getting rid of the State Board of Education, go for it! Right now, that body is making a dangerous power-play in the wake of Act 46 and, if it gets its way, will become another unaccountable, growing bureaucracy sucking power and money away from local communities.

So, there’s lots of baby and lots of bathwater in this trial balloon. We’ll keep an eye on it if it gets off the ground.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Dexter Lefavour January 15, 2019 at 12:19 am

Exactly! I am with you!

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Mary Daly January 18, 2019 at 10:11 pm

I am initially for it. Less confusion, more choice and less bureaucracy. However the down side would be too much control under one roof. It is an interesting concept and I’ll await more info.
Mary Daly

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Deanne January 19, 2019 at 2:35 am

The main problems I see:

Taxes are still collected and redistributed.

The government is still in charge of education.

People who want the government OUT of education (homeschoolers) are still forced to pay taxes to fund education and must “apply” to get their money back or pay twice for education (taxes to support everyone else, plus their own educational materials and parent-teacher not earning money.)

People who want the government OUT of education must jump through government hoops to retrieve their money or lose it. Also, what about people who don’t want to have money redistributed to them and just want to not pay the education tax? It puts them in an uncomfortable position.

Parents are still have little say over the selection of teachers and curriculum.

People are still forced to fund philosophies, subjects, teaching, ideas, policies, etc., they disagree with.

Well, I’ve gotten a brief start. I don’t know what the Vermont constitution originally said about education. In New Hampshire, it was not delegated to the government, but primarily to religious organizations. Very interesting wording, actually, which has since been mutilated beyond recognition. Taken at face value, no one was to be forced to pay for education involuntarily. We’ve gotten a long way off track since those days, and not in a good direction. I know it’s futile in the current political climate in Vermont, but it would be nice to see one state implement a truly voluntary, parentally-controlled, non-government education “system.”

From the New Hampshire Bill of Rights, 1784:
[Art.] 6. [Morality and Piety.] As morality and piety, rightly grounded on high principles, will give the best and greatest security to government, and will lay, in the hearts of men, the strongest obligations to due subjection; and as the knowledge of these is most likely to be propagated through a society, therefore, the several parishes, bodies, corporate, or religious societies shall at all times have the right of electing their own teachers, and of contracting with them for their support or maintenance, or both. But no person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination. And every person, denomination or sect shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any one sect, denomination or persuasion to another shall ever be established.
June 2, 1784
Amended 1968 to remove obsolete sectarian references.

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gdp January 19, 2019 at 2:15 pm

Acquiescing to any central control is a mistake. Undermines individual, family and local government. Compromising to state wide district in return for the elimination of state administration is as unlikely as it is undesirable, knowing the political appetite towards government largesse, and the need for some degree of uniformity in establishing education standards/institutions uninfected by ideology. Besides, would Vermont be able to do what Iowa is doing right now – middle school districts mandating education in the use of fire arms? Vermont needs to get back on board with its heritage of independence, as demonstrated in the history of its Constitution, the first established directly by its citizenry, and there to the direct Constitutional delegation to the towns of school authority, notwithstanding bald obiter dicta assertion in Brigham flying in the face of the preceding charter authority of the towns which established the Constitution in the first instance, the difficulty of the 1777 delegation cured in those of 1786 and 1792. What was that about ‘Vermont Strong’?

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Weiland A Ross January 19, 2019 at 2:37 pm

Rob, don’ kid yourself, a single state wide school district is not going to eliminate any
‘mid-level bureaucrats. My bet is that the bureaucrats will increase in numbers
exponentially. Witness the accumulation of new positions in the Bennington-Rutland district since Act 46 merged nine of it’s eleven towns into the ‘Taconic & Green district.
This the district that Secy. Dan French headed before he left to become a state level bureaucrat.. The budget proposed by this mutant organism for next year is a nice little
$32,000,000 piece of change. Way more than the traffic should be asked to bear. Much of this budget is for administration positions created since the mergers.

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