Shumlin Pushes To Expand School Choice

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(Host) Governor Peter Shumlin says he wants to work to support legislation this winter that would expand public school choice opportunities at the high school level throughout the state.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the plan will face some stiff opposition at the Statehouse.

(Kinzel) Shumlin told members of the State Board of Education recently that his approach is quite simple – all students in Vermont should be able to go to any public school in the state.

Currently, there are 91 towns that don’t have an elementary school or a high school and these communities are able to tuition their students to public or private schools. Shumlin’s plan would leave this arrangement in place while expanding public school choice to all other towns.

There is a system in place right now that gives a limited number of students the chance to attend a public school in a nearby community but Shumlin says the process is too restrictive.

(Shumlin) "What I’d ask us to do is spend less time doing education theory and more time figuring out where we can come together to get real things done…and as the first step simply say we support a system where you can choose what public school you’re going to attend in Vermont without the cumbersome system that we have in place right now that involves cooperative relationships sometimes lotteries and the rest."

(Kinzel) Shumlin says this approach will encourage schools to develop their own unique curriculums. For instance, some might specialize in the arts and others in the sciences.

(Shumlin) "You’d find that every school had a specialty of some kind and it would attract kids that want to exercise those opportunities. So let’s do what we can do."

(Kinzel) Rutland senator Kevin Mullin is the chairman of the Senate Education committee.

He supports full school choice and says it won’t be easy to pass the Governor’s plan.

(Mullin) "I think that choice is a very good thing and I think what it does is it that it forces schools to be the very best that they can be and so I think that any type of movement in that direction would be a positive one but I also don’t believe that it’s a very politically easy thing to deliver."

(Kinzel) The plan faces the strong opposition of Vermont’s Teachers Union. Spokesperson Darren Allen says the proposal would undermine the current financing system where towns receive state funding based on how many students they have.

(Allen) "It takes away local communities ability to budget and to plan for itself and raise the money that it has ever since people started setting school budgets decades and decades ago."

(Kinzel) Allen says the plan is "a solution looking for a problem" because very few students take advantage of the opportunities that are available now under a law known as Act 150.

(Allen) "I think people vote with their actions and people vote with their feet. And the fact that in those communities where that choice is already available and a number of folks taking advantage of it is small suggests to us that there’s a great deal of satisfaction with local schools."

(Kinzel) Allen says the plan is also unfair to families that have limited options to transport their students to schools outside of their communities.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier


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