Senate Unlikely to Take Up School Choice

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(Host) It appears that the issue of school choice is dead for the session. The House passed a new plan last week but Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin says the proposal is flawed. And Shumlin says the Senate doesn’t have the time to address the legislation this year.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The legislation, which was adopted by a narrow margin in the House last week, would allow all students to attend any public school in the state. The key to the bill is a provision that transfers the state block grant for the student to the new school.

This is a key difference from the existing pilot program for school choice. Under the current law, money does not follow the student and some schools have complained about taking on new students with no financial assistance.

Shumlin says the House bill is too complicated to consider in what he hopes are the final weeks of the session:

(Shumlin) “My view of the school choice bill that they passed over to us is that it’s so sweeping and so late that I’ve advised our Education Committee to put it aside and come back to it next year. The bottom line is that we have a school choice bill in effect, it’s just going into effect. I think we need to let it work and if the Senate could really give time to school choice, which it desperately needs, the House bill would destroy many small schools in Vermont and we don’t want to do that, then I’d say let’s do it. If it were February, we’d certainly take a look at it. It’s not.”

(Kinzel) Jeff Wennberg is the president of Vermonters for Educational Choice, a group that has been advocating for school choice for several years. Wennberg says he is disappointed by Shumlin’s decision and Wennberg hopes to change Shumlin’s mind about this issue:

(Wennberg) “It’s a very simple, straightforward, open-enrollment public school bill that they should take testimony and they should do some research. Certainly, I would strongly encourage the Senate to do that. It would seem to me that if it were treated as something of a priority, the time over the next four weeks would be a reasonable period of time to deal with it.”

(Kinzel) Wennberg says his organization hopes to talk with members of the Senate Education Committee this week about the key provisions of this bill.

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

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