Bucknam: A constitutional amendment for Vermont’s kids

By Deborah Bucknam

Vermont has an opportunity to be the first in the nation to enact a constitutional amendment that will enshrine in our constitution equal educational opportunity for Vermont’s kids. The Vermont General Assembly this year has passed a constitutional amendment which provides a model for the Kids First amendment. Proposal 5, the “reproductive liberty” amendment to Vermont’s constitution, proposes that giving women the unlimited right to abortion will ensure “equal protection and treatment under the law and upholding the right of all people to dignity, independence, and freedom.”

Michael Bielawski/TNR

St. Johnsbury-based attorney Deborah Bucknam

While I strongly disagree with the Proposal 5 because the right to life of an innocent child is involved, it is heartening that Progressives are showing a concern for individual liberty and a recognition that it is “critical to ensuring equal protection and treatment under the law.” This same concern for liberty and recognition of the critical role liberty plays in promoting equal protection for all citizens now ought to extend to parents’ right to choose the best education for their children.

The United States Supreme Court and the Vermont Supreme Court have held that parents have fundamental constitutional rights regarding the care and nurture of their children, but those rights have been steadily eroded by government rules and regulations which purport to protect the “best interests of the child,” but too often reflect government’s pretensions — backed up by coercive government power — that they, not parents, know best how to raise their children. If Vermont lawmakers believe that parents are trusted with the most profound and fraught decision as to whether to terminate the life of their unborn child, then those parents surely can be trusted to choose the education that is best for their children.

Therefore lawmakers should pass in the next legislative session a proposal for a Vermont Constitutional Amendment patterned after the abortion rights amendment giving parents the liberty to choose the appropriate education for their children.

In our present education system, children and parents are not afforded equal treatment under the law. In 1997, in Brigham v. State, the Vermont Supreme Court, in deciding Vermont’s funding scheme violated the Vermont constitution, stated: “Labels aside, we are simply unable to fathom a legitimate governmental purpose to justify the gross inequities in educational opportunities evident from the record. The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence. It requires no particular constitutional expertise to recognize the capriciousness of such a system.”

Despite the Court’s efforts to equalize educational opportunity, there is still a gross disparity in educational opportunity for Vermont’s school children. A kindergartner with an educational impediment is bullied by another resulting in such severe emotional trauma that she cannot attend school — leaving her parents with no choice but to home school. A gifted child is not provided with math education because he is already so far ahead of his peers — but his parents are left with sending him to the only school he is allowed to attend, or move. A boy is not required to attend class in a basic subject because his teachers do not have the time or interest to teach him in a way he can learn. These are real Vermont children who have been stuck in monopoly public schools that not only do not fit their needs, but are downright harmful to their education. Countless Vermont children do not want to go to school because they are teased, bullied, ignored or bored. Others with unique abilities or learning methods are not given the opportunities to pursue their special talents or learn in their unique way.

Because of the “fortuity” of their residence, they are required to attend a monopoly school which does not provide the equal educational opportunity the Vermont Supreme Court envisioned.

Thirty percent of Vermont School districts provide for full or partial school choice. So the privileged in this state can afford to send their children to the independent school that fits their children’s needs, or to move to a choice district. And many do. The children of the less fortunate are not afforded that same educational opportunity as the privileged in Vermont.

This constitutional amendment will clarify Vermonters’ unrestricted right to choose the education that is best for their children. The abortion amendment passed the General Assembly states: “ The core value reflected in Article 7 [of the Vermont Constitution] is that all people should be afforded all the benefits and protections bestowed by the government, and that the government should not confer special advantages upon the privileged. This amendment would reassert the principles of equality and personal liberty reflected in Articles 1 and 7 and ensure that government does not create or perpetuate the legal, social, or economic inferiority of any class of people.”

This sentiment applies with even greater force to an “educational liberty” constitutional amendment. Allowing every parent to choose the best education for their children will ensure the government cannot perpetuate the legal, social or economic inferiority of any Vermonter.

The benefits of such an equal educational opportunity amendment to our children is immeasurable. But there are other benefits which will follow for our state as well:

  • Our demographic decline has a chance to reverse course. Think of it: the first state in the country to have universal school choice would attract people from all over the country, and bring in a more diverse population. Black and Hispanic parents are the most enthusiastic supporters of school choice, and Vermont will be able to attract those young families who want an education that best suits their children.
  • Local communities would be empowered to establish or reform their local schools to attract students with unique offerings and school culture. This is not a new idea: 19th century Vermont saw an organic growth of, first, common schools, then Academies, founded and supported by local communities across the state. The result: an explosion of education and literacy. In contrast, today’s educational system has stagnated, and even declined, for the last fifty years despite the enormous resources that have poured into the educational establishment.
  • Power would revert from the all-powerful educational establishment located in Montpelier back to parents and local communities

Make no mistake, however unlike the abortion rights amendment, which was backed by some of most powerful lobbyists in the state, the educational liberty constitutional amendment will be opposed by those same powerful entrenched interests, and many more, including the hundreds of union and government bureaucrats whose jobs depend on keeping the educational status quo. Because their livelihood and their power are at stake, they will fight fiercely with all their wealthy resources behind them. Their underlying message will be: they know what is best for your children, not you.

Despite the powerful opposition, this educational liberty amendment could pass if, in 2020, we elect representatives and senators to our General Assembly who have compassion for our kids and courage to buck the powerful in Montpelier. Vermonters have rebelled against the powerful before, and now is the time to stand up and be counted on behalf of our children.

Deborah Bucknam is a St. Johnsbury-based attorney and former Republican candidate for state attorney general.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Michael Bielawski/TNR

10 thoughts on “Bucknam: A constitutional amendment for Vermont’s kids

  1. Unfortunately, Vermont Democrat’s are just puppets of the big public education monopoly. The powerful teachers union uses votes and cash to help elect democrats, in turn democrats pass rules and regulations that benefit union jobs. This disgusting arrangement harms Vermont children and families.

  2. Progressives are only interested in rights that forward their agenda which is control. They ignore constitutional rights that they don’t like and propose those that they do if it controls an action by an individual. They would argue that the abortion rights bill expands the rights of individual women. This is true but the so called rights for the woman ignore the rights of an unborn child that would be an individual if left untouched by the action to dispose of it. In the same breath, progressive have taken away a woman’s right to defend herself from an abusive partner by not allowing her to purchase a firearm immediately. She now has to wait 24 hours and this is not freedom to choose.

    As you can see, progressives seek control of the masses to control their agenda. Allowing the freedom of school choice would enable the individual (one at a time) to break the indoctrination cycle of the liberal/progressive state education where kids are taught what to think not how to think. Hence the public demonstrations by school aged children supported by teachers and schools of certain political issues. Those demonstrations forward the progressive march to group control through public sector union power. Progressives in Vermont have the upper hand because they have taken over everything. They control the schools, the media, the state bureaucracy, the legislature and the minds of the majority of Vermont voters. This commentary is a good start to a political movement that must take place. Now it needs to be pushed into the light for all parents and voters to see. Now is a good time. The last legislative session proves that progressives can’t even get along with each other so how can they lead? Here is a quote from one of the most progressive leaders of the 20th century:

    “The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.” ― Adolf Hitler

  3. This is dumb, NO MORE Constitutional Amendments!

    We must spend our time forcing control back to Citizens and taken away from out of control
    Lifetime Bureaucrats

  4. How about a respect life amendment that says if you have kids you are responsible for them and pay for their education. While the old people with homes don’t have to fund your tax and spend ideas with property taxes. That would require real involvement of parents and be real equality.

    • I just happened to read the latest Franklin County Courier today and noticed that the ‘Maple Run Unified School District’ has 6 locations listed where breakfast and/or lunch will be provided to all school age children meeting certain income limits, and 6 other locations where breakfast and/or lunch will be provided to all school age children.

      If we can no longer expect parents to feed their own children, how can we possibly expect them to be responsible for, and pay for, their own child’s education? Most of them take no interest in their child’s education, and consider it little more than a daycare facility with free meals year round.

  5. If you want your child to be a free thinking independent minded problem solver you don’t want
    to send them to public ed. where the philosophy is to dumb down to the common denominator.
    Home school or private Ed. will set them free from the PC ridden public indoctrination.

  6. Don’t wait for government to tell you how your children must be “educated”. Parents should take charge by pulling children out of the state-controlled schools and giving their children a real education, where they can learn how to think, instead of learning what to think. We live in a great time where there a lots of better options, including a blend of home and coop schooling with the curriculum of your choice that does not undermine the values you try to instill in your children. No longer do children have to sit hour after hour in rows getting board until they have no desire to learn. Build a learning environment for your children so they enjoy learning. Whatever you do, do not wait for people who run for office so they can “be in control” to let you raise your children. It will never happen. Just do it and encourage your friends and family to do the same … and if successful, eventually you can scrap the education property tax because there will be no need. Meanwhile, keep shrinking it.

  7. Oh Deb, what a great idea, but probably way too quixotic in a state where the NEA and an entrenched bureaucracy controls the educational agenda! Good luck.

  8. Isn’t it paradoxical? The hypocrisy of allowing a mother the soul determination of the fate of her unborn child and not allowing her the right to choose the school that best meets its needs when she chooses to bear it. No wonder Vermont’s student enrollments are in precipitous decline.

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