What hare-brained idea?

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(Host) Commentator Libby Sternberg reflects on the predicament of a Vermont couple who is being charged with trying to circumvent public school residency regulations.

(Sternberg) Consider the case of Mr. Kenneth Levine of Sudbury. Believing his children would be harassed in one school, he search for another appropriate school and enrolled his children there. For his efforts, he faces a possible 32 years in prison and a five-figure fine.

How so? It turns out that Mr. Levine technically does not live in the town in which he enrolled his kids in school. I say “technically” because – according to newspaper reports – Mr. Levine did actually rent a room in that town to establish residency. Through his rent he therefore subsidized the property taxes of his landlord which in turn pay for education in that specific town. In addition Mr. Levine already pays other taxes, as do we all, that fund education.

In other words, this frustrated – even desperate – parent attempted to establish a fiduciary tie to the town. But he didn’t live in the room he rented, and thus he is accused of giving “false testimony” to the town board of civil authority. He was hunted down like a criminal and now he and his wife have had to hire an attorney to extricate themselves from this sticky and yes, unfair, morass.

Who thought up this system anyway? Doesn’t it seem a bit hare-brained to you – to punish a man for trying to do what was right for his children? Yet “hare-brained” is precisely the term Governor Howard Dean used to describe what would have helped this poor father. Dean was campaigning for president in New York State and speaking to a special interest group opposed to any form of school choice when he declared “We have to be very, very careful not to destroy the public school system with harebrained ideas like vouchers.”

It’s unlikely that Mr. Levine would have any intention of destroying the public education system. He himself is a public school teacher. In his speech, Governor Dean went on to say that vouchers would fractionalize our society. They would “put the rich people here, the poor people there…” Uh…in reality, isn’t it the rich people who currently get to choose the “there” that they’d like to be in while the rest of us, including Mr. Levine, have to make do as best we can? All Mr. Levine wanted was access to another public school that met his children’s needs. Punishing him for that is more than just a hare-brained idea. It’s a shameful one.

This is Libby Sternberg in Rutland.

Libby Sternberg is a free-lance writer, former chair of the Rutland County Republican Party, and is active in education issues.

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