This commentary is by Jay Eshelman, a business owner and a former Work Force Investment Board and River Valley Technical Center board member. He is a resident of Westminster, Vermont.
There is only one fix with regard to the preK-12 educational chaos currently being levied on Vermonters and their children. Be it any assigned curricula, or Orange Southwest Unified School District Superintendent Layne Millington’s unilateral decree on the “Let’s Go Brandon” disciplinary judgment, these actions are explicitly unconstitutional. As the Liz Cady circumstance clearly shows us, constitutional resolution cannot be achieved by replacing one school board, administration, or teacher with another. Tyranny is tyranny, no matter how it’s assigned.
What is that “one fix”? Need I repeat it over and again? It is universal school choice — period. No other form of educational governance can resolve this chaos, short of eliminating governmental education support entirely.
So, what about eliminating educational support altogether? Is this a viable alternative? I submit to you that it is not. At least not without opening the door to a profound constitutional debate on what the 1997 Brigham v. State decision, and its reference to the 1954 SCOTUS decision on Brown v. Board of Education, gives us.
“When we consider the evidence in the record before us and apply the Education and Common Benefits Clauses of the Vermont Constitution to that evidence … the conclusion becomes inescapable that the present system has fallen short of providing every school-age child in Vermont an equal educational opportunity. This duty was eloquently described in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954):
[E]ducation is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. … It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities. … It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”
Please note that these landmark decisions define that it is the “opportunity” that “must be made available to all on equal terms.” There is no reference as to what that opportunity involves. And the Brigham decision goes on to say that “[t]he distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence.”
Currently, approximately 90 Vermont school districts provide tuition vouchers to parents, allowing them to choose the school (both traditional public and independent) they believe best meets the needs of their children. The only way to satisfy the Education and Common Benefits Clauses of the Vermont Constitution is to provide tuition vouchers to all parents — and there are several pending cases in Vermont’s Superior Court arguing this point.
Let the free market determine educational methodology. For those wanting the progressive “woke” point of view, let them choose their poison. For those wanting traditional values and academic curricula, let them choose theirs. Unless and until universal school choice is legislated, the current disagreements voiced throughout the state will be the standard fair — guaranteed. Again, there are several lawsuits pending against various Vermont school districts and the Agency of Education for breaching these constitutional precepts. Here’s the legal logic in a nutshell:
“In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” — Brown v. Board of Education
When the Vermont Supreme Court decided the Brigham v. State case in 1997, it made the following citation:
“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.”
Again, using our judicial system to demand universal school choice, short of reasonable legislative action, is our only recourse. And, as always, I welcome comment and debate on this issue and will endeavor to address as many alternative points of view as I can.