Vermont’s school choice secret

By Larry Sand
March 3, 2020

As the political exhibition season ends, here’s a brief look at where the candidates stand on school choice, and the Green Mountain State’s 150-year-old parental choice program.

In 2015, the American Federation of Teachers anointed Hillary Clinton as its 2016 presidential preference, with no input from its rank-and-file. This did not sit well with the Sandernistas in the union, and the chastened AFT promised not to ignore its membership again. One election later, after barely tweaking their MO, AFT president Randi Weingarten announced last week that the union’s executive council passed a resolution that encourages affiliates to support, be actively involved with, or endorse the candidacies of Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, or Bernie Sanders.

Warren, who has not been polling well, continually puts political correctness above truth and common sense. One would think she would be contrite after the Fauchahontas howler, but instead, trying to position herself as a teacher union darling, proceeded to lie about her son’s schooling. While her son did indeed attend a public school for a few years, she yanked him out when it didn’t meet her expectations, and enrolled him into tony private schools in both Texas and Pennsylvania for most of his k-12 career. Then, clearly overcome by an excess of PC-ness announced, if elected, her Secretary of Education would need to be vetted by a “young trans person.” Most on the left just tried to ignore the loopy comment, but liberal TV host Bill Maher just couldn’t let it slide, “Is this not crazy stuff? Is she running for president of Berkeley?” (In fact, after Ms. Warren bows out of the campaign, Berserkeley would be an ideal spot for her.)

Joe Biden, whose flagging campaign was revived with a convincing win in the South Carolina primary, is no fan of parental choice. In a January tweet, he asserted, “When we divert public funds to private schools, we undermine the entire public education system. We’ve got to prioritize investing in our public schools, so every kid in America gets a fair shot. That’s why I oppose vouchers.” But as the Daily Caller points out, Biden’s two sons both went to Archmere Academy in Delaware, the same private high school that Biden himself attended. One year of tuition at the Catholic high school costs $28,800, according to the school’s website.

And then there’s Bernie. Having been blessed by California locals in Los Angeles, Oakland and Richmond, and Nevada’s Clark County Education Association, the senescent socialist from Vermont is holding his own with the teachers unions. Regarding privatization, as a socialist, Sanders is against anything that smacks of it. On charters, he adopts the teacher union stance, which promotes regulating them out of business, as is happening now in California.

But here is a little secret that few outside of school choice circles and New England denizens are aware of: In Sanders’ adopted state of Vermont, 93 towns – more than a third of the state’s municipalities – have no public schools, and the kids get a damn good education. These “tuition towns” are small. So small that they really cannot support a public school. Instead, tax money goes to parents who send their children to a local private school. And if that school doesn’t comport with parents’ expectations, the parents can place their kid in another school, with the money following the child – all this with no added cost to the taxpayer. As communication strategist Dr. Laura Williams points out, “Because parents, not bureaucrats or federal formulas, determine how funds are allocated, schools are under high economic pressure to impress parents⁠—that is, to serve students best in their parents’ eyes.”

Vermont’s town tuitioning program was launched in 1869, making it the oldest school choice program in the country. Additionally, Maine and, as of 2017, New Hampshire have tuition towns.

Maybe on the campaign trail, some enterprising journalist will question Sanders about the success of the town tuitioning program, and ask if he’s thought about taking it statewide. I am not holding my breath, however.

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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