Committee won’t proceed with school choice bill

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(Host) The head of the House Education Committee says his panel will not be voting on a school choice bill this session because a majority of members oppose the legislation. However, the governor is hoping to keep school choice alive.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The issue of school choice is clearly a partisan issue at the Statehouse. There are 11 members of the House Education Committee; five Republicans support it but five Democrats and one Progressive oppose any change to the current law.

Several years ago the Legislature passed Act 150. It opened the door to a limited form of regional public school choice and it called for a full report in January of 2005 to measure the impact of the regional approach. Republicans want to expand public school choice on a statewide level but Democrats have argued that it’s a mistake to make any changes until next year’s report has been studied.

House Education Chairman Howard Crawford says this stalemate means that his committee won’t vote out a bill this year:

(Crawford) “We haven’t taken a formal vote but it basically sits at 5-6, leave it on the wall and leave it in committee. Not to even bring it out what we say adverse’ – for full discussion on the floor, which is something I would really like to see.”

(Kinzel) The vice chairman of the committee, Winooski Representative George Cross says it’s a mistake to expand public school choice before the current law has been fully implemented:

(Cross) “Act 150 was a three-year pilot project that was a compromise in itself. It has a major study. And so once we have the results of that study and return here next January, I’m convinced that there will be some incremental change in school choice. But school choice is a very complicated situation in a small rural state where there are as many school districts as we have.”

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas says he’s disappointed by the committee’s decision but he hopes supporters will try to attach the school choice plan as an amendment to another education bill that’s debated on the House floor:

(Douglas) “I’m going to continue to talk about it, to encourage legislators in other committees to take a look at it and see if we can work something out. This is something that Vermonters want, that they deserve. I’m disappointed.”

(Kinzel) One major unanswered question with the new school choice plan is whether or not a student’s block grant would follow the student to their new school. The House Education committee never made a final decision about that.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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