School choice divides House Education Committee

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(Host) The head of the House Education Committee, Burke Representative Howard Crawford, says he plans to offer a scaled back school choice bill in the near future. Crawford says he’s taking this step because his panel won’t support the original proposal.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The issue of school choice is dividing the House Education Committee strictly along party lines. Five Republicans support a bill to expand public school choice in Vermont, but five Democrats and one independent don’t back it.

The legislation, in its original form, would allow full public school choice throughout the state for all grade levels. Chairman Howard Crawford says he’s disappointed that a majority of his committee members don’t support the legislation:

(Crawford) “What do I think? I think that hopefully I’ll be able to give the bill a rest for a week, let everybody catch their breath. It was in real trouble [on Thursday] and I’m hoping I can keep it alive for another week and bring it up the week after next.”

(Kinzel) Crawford’s compromise plan would limit full public school choice to the high school level and the proposal would allow the student’s new school to receive a small part of the individual’s block grant.

(Crawford) “My amendment obviously is nothing like the bill. It takes a very baby step forward and what it does is it will be [grades] 9-12 only and it takes away the requirement that high schools find partner schools. It would allow a student to select among any public school and then it would move a small amount of money.”

(Kinzel) Winooski Representative George Cross, who’s the vice chairman of the committee, opposes any changes to the state existing public school choice law. The current law encourages schools to develop regional partnerships to allow choice and it calls for a comprehensive review of the effort next winter:

(Cross) “It’s a process question. Folks can argue process versus policy, but the fact of the matter is we set up a thoughtful process, took a long time doing it. It was a bipartisan effort and we ought to follow that up. There’s no rush to expand school choice as it sets right at the moment.”

(Kinzel) Supporters of the school choice bill are hoping to get it voted out of committee by the end of the month, but if a majority of members continue to oppose the plan, this may be a difficult goal to achieve.

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

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