Paul Dame: Democrats likely to target school choice in upcoming session

This commentary is by Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont GOP.

Last week advocates for school choice were able to notch a big win after a lawsuit against the state was finally settled. The Vermont Agency of Education agreed to issue guidance that any towns that offer to tuition students to other schools could no longer discriminate against schools based on religion. This ruling would allow parents and students the freedom to decide which learning environment is the most appropriate for the student.

Paul Dame, chairman of the Vermont GOP

Democrats in Vermont have been looking for ways to infringe on this right, and they may grow even bolder with the supermajority they won in November.  Even before the last legislative session ended, some legislators had already begun to get to work on creating more barriers, restrictions and hurdles to peel back this hard-fought right.

Senators Ruth Hardy and Brian Campion were charging hard in March to stop families from getting educated in different learning environments. This is especially interesting because the senators hail from two counties that have some experience with alternative schooling options. Addison County is home to a small private Christian school in Vergennes, and a few years ago the school in North Bennington made state headlines for closing its public school and operating a private non-religious school. With both of these anti-choice politicians fresh off their victories in November, they may already be drafting legislation to be introduced in January to take away the newly-confirmed rights of students in Vermont.

This represents one of the fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats are constantly trying to infringe on certain rights entirely, or at the very least limit the choices we have to exercise them. In the session ahead we can likely expect an attack on school choice. We could also see further attacks on gun rights with Senator Phil Baruth now leading the VT Senate. Many Vermonters have fewer choices regarding the medical care we receive with the consolidation of our health care system into a near monopoly and the elimination of all but three insurance carriers. Parents have fewer choices for childcare providers because Democrats regulated many rural providers out of business.

While we watch to see what other choices Democrats will be taking away in the next two years, Republicans need to commit to working together now to rebuild our party in order to deliver a higher quality of life to Vermonters who want to make their own decisions for themselves and their family.

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31 thoughts on “Paul Dame: Democrats likely to target school choice in upcoming session

  1. The fact that they fight school choice so hard really tells us all we need to know.

    At this point, I believe it’s been made painfully clear that we need to move in the direct opposite direction of whatever the government is pushing for- doing this will perhaps save your life.

  2. “Rebuild” the party?

    What does it need to be rebuilt from?

    The wreckage left by lying RINOs like Scott, Benning, Dame and Koch – and jealous old Jim Douglas, who tried to drive President Trump out of the Republican Party and inflict Christina Nolan on us – who have betrayed voters, betrayed President Trump, betrayed the Constitution and betrayed the Republic.

    The best way to “rebuild” is for Paul Dame to resign and take all the RINO saboteurs with him.

    • They can’t handle the truth. If it was not for Trump the Republicans would have no voters at all.

  3. Well, former Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcomb announced some good news in the first Scott administration: non-public school enrollment went up by 41 students, and the state increased its funding by $10 million.

    Good to know that somebody here has realized that public education funding is the last remaining money pot for the private sector to suck dry.

    • Speaking of sucking taxpayer funding dry – Parents are paying about as much as it costs for one student to attend one of the Vermont State University schools for a year, including room & board, as it costs to educate an elementary school student in the public schools. Never mind that half of Vermont public-school monopoly graduates can’t meet grade-level standards.

      Isn’t it better then, to invest in the private sector, accountable to parents, rather than invest in the failing public-school monopoly and legislative special interest groups that evade accountability at all costs.

      Perhaps this explains why Vermont public-school enrollment has declined 15% in the last decade while independent and homeschool enrollments increased 8%.

      • No, the private sector is NOT accountable to parents; it’s accountable to stockholders.

        The private sector was responsible for closing its two storefront schools and absconding with some $1.4 million in taxpayer money in my sister’s town a couple years back. I know this is anecdotal, but there are a lot more cases. The biggest scandal at present is the NYC neighborhood of Williamsburg (sp?), which has received something in the line of $400,000,000 of taxpayer money and has the worst known educational track record of any privatized school system (it’s religion-based) in the US.

        • Not only is your citation anecdotal, it’s inaccurate and misleading.

          If it’s the Williamsburg Charter High School and Believe Northside Charter High Schools closings you’re referring to, that was ten years ago. And the founder of the schools was indicted for fraud, including 11 felony counts of tax fraud, grand larceny, and falsifying business records. That’s called ‘accountability’. And those schools were not ‘religion-based’.

          Your understanding of independent school governance is also inaccurate. Many Vermont independent schools are non-profits. They don’t have ‘shareholders’. Parents don’t have to send their children to a Charter School, or any other specific independent school for that matter. They can choose. And if they feel they’ve made the wrong choice, they can choose a different school.

          The level of hypocrisy in your claim can’t be exaggerated. Ten years ago, while the Williamsburg school issue you cite was ongoing, the Vermont State auditor found that about $415,000 had been reported missing from 16 Vermont supervisory units and school districts over the decade.

          “For a small state, the frequency of incidents involving fraud, embezzlement or theft in our schools is alarming,” Salmon said. “While it is a credit to many of our school systems that they have reported no known instances of theft, it is clear that glaring weaknesses in controls over cash, accountability and security continue in many others.”

          To the best of my knowledge, no one in these 16 public school districts in Vermont were ever held accountable. The schools are still open, their performance is as suspect as ever, and they can’t be closed because they’re in the unaccountable Vermont public-school monopoly.

          • Well, Jay, you dished me right. That’s what I get for shooting from the hip. I verified your claims about the religious school and also came across another $3 million they– or one of their ilk in Brooklyn– stole from the federal funds meant for school lunches!

            If we don’t understand the possibility and existence of the voucher grift, the country loses (but, “The Tree of Profitt muft be Watered from Time to Time with the Bloode of the Taxpayer.”
            –Thomaf Jefferfon)
            Here’s something we all ought to be thinking about: There are 8 disadvantages to vouchers for private schools. Each of them can be exploited by the criminal element (like Democrats for Educational Reform) for personal profit. What do we need in place to keep them honest?

            Here are 8 disadvantages of the voucher system.
            1. Most school voucher money goes from a public school.
            2. Students perform equally well with or without a voucher.
            3. There are rarely accountability standards for private schools.
            4. School vouchers don’t always cover the full costs involved in a transfer.
            5. There isn’t a tax savings associated with school voucher programs.
            6. Standardized testing and other performance indicators are not required.
            7. Market forces don’t always work.
            8. Market forces can also dilute the educational resources of a community.

            I don’t suppose you remember the Vershire School raid…. One inspector told me, “They were doing it to support their horse habit.”

            Finally, of the 37 most industrialized countries, the US has the lowest spending per child and the highest infant mortality rate. What does this suggest about the nation’s regard for children?

          • Please, cgregory, you’re way out of your league. The citations I made in my previous posts already discount your current points listed below. That you continue to ignore the arguments I’ve already made is, at best, misleading and inaccurate.

            1. Most school voucher money goes from a public school.

            Voucher money comes from taxpayers and follows the student. After all, it is about the student, is it not. Let each school prove itself worthy in the eyes of the parents.

            2. Students perform equally well with or without a voucher.

            No. They don’t. First of all, this is a false dichotomy. No two students perform ‘equally well’ in any discipline or under any circumstance. One size never fits all. Our children are unique.

            And when students (and the student’s parents) receive a voucher, allowing them to choose a school, both student and parent become more engaged. For one thing, they no longer have the excuse that they are restricted by some school orthodoxy or teacher preferences. With School Choice, for example, a parent who wants their child to learn about CRT or genderism can’t complain that some right-wing school board dogma is discriminating against them. They can choose the school that, in their opinion, best meets their individual needs. Of course, those same students and parents who don’t want to be subjected to CRT or genderism can choose the school that best meets their needs and sentiments too.

            3. There are rarely accountability standards for private schools.

            “Approved independent schools in Vermont customarily gain their state approval by gaining accred¬i-tation from the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC), one of several accrediting organizations in the U.S. (www.neasc.org). NEASC accreditation is a rigorous process aimed at lifting school standards and performance to the highest levels.”

            There is also a robust Vermont Agency of Education Independent School Approval Process.
            https://education.vermont.gov/vermont-schools/school-operations/independent-schools

            4. School vouchers don’t always cover the full costs involved in a transfer.

            So what?

            5. There isn’t a tax savings associated with school voucher programs.

            And what tax savings are there in a public-school monopoly?

            6. Standardized testing and other performance indicators are not required.

            Says who? See point #3 above.

            Market forces don’t always work.

            Talk about a double standard. Market forces are non-existent in the public-school monopoly.

            Market forces can also dilute the educational resources of a community.

            No. They can’t. Because ‘the market’ is accountable. Parents vote with their wallets. If they don’t get the bang for the buck they want from their choice of schools, the schools are replaced by other institutions that do provide the resources.

            Again, your double standards are glaring.

            Re: “Finally, of the 37 most industrialized countries, the US has the lowest spending per child….”

            I admit to not knowing if you are too lazy to do the research or intentionally disingenuous. The most recent statistics I find (2020) comparing the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, ranks the U.S. fifth at $13,600 per student. Now compare that to Vermont’s Announced Average Annual Tuition of $17,278.00 per student, available in the State’s tuition vouchers.

            Infant mortality rates??? Please why do you persist at moving the goal posts. Yet another diversionary tactic to take attention away from School Choice. FYI: The U.S. mortality rate was 5.44 per 1000 births in 2020. Iceland was ranked best at 1.54 deaths. Sierra Leone was worst at 80.1 deaths. And even this UNICEF assessment included the following disclaimer.

            “Upon examination, however, the discrepancy between the U.S. and other countries appears largely due to country-to-country differences in the way infant mortality statistics are compiled. Infant mortality is defined differently in different countries, and the U.S. definition is notably broader than that of most other countries.”

            Now, if you’re talking about abortion rates, the U.S. currently ranks 15th highest out of the 50 countries listed by the U.N. But with the passage of Article 22, Vermonters will likely do everything they can to have that ranking move even higher. Tsk, tsk.

          • Mr. Eschelman, to respond at this time only to your point #1— Taxpayers who use a publicly-funded voucher do not pay an extra amount of school tax to replace that which the government has given them in a voucher. Hence, public schools lose that amount of funding. Why the need to obscure or refuse to recognize that fact?

            What happens is that any grifter (like the hedge fund managers who comprise Democrats for Education Reform) see an opportunity to siphon off the money into schemes that profit them and not the family (e.g., Vershire School in the Eighties), according to the principle stated by Thof. Jefferfon).

            I’ll address each of your other points separately.

          • Mr. Eshelman, in regard to #2– studies show that students do equally well with or without a voucher: You misread it; it’s not comparing student to student, it’s comparing student to the environment– the student does equally well whether they’re in a public or private school. It ought to have been written better.

            As this discussion is about how grifters will use these objections to snatch the public money, I hope you can see how they would use this one to their advantage. I can see two obvious ways.

          • Mr. Eshelman, re: “3. There are rarely accountability standards for private schools.”

            You pointed out how then-State Auditor Tom Salmon uncovered thousands of dollars of funds misallocated to public schools, which funds were returned; You also point out that the state of Vermont regulates (gasp! a freighted word in these parts) private schools. I pointed out the example of the old Vershire School, whose parents got nothing back. Has state regulation of private schools improved since then? As was pointed out during the debacle, it wasn’t the state that uncovered the malfeasance; it was distraught staff, appalled by the horrendous neglect of students, who blew the whistle.

            This #3 is an obvious hole a grifter will dive into to depart with a load of cash. What do we need in place to prevent that from happening?

          • Mr. Eshelman, in regard to #4: vouchers don’t always cover the full amount.

            “So what?”

            So, the grifters will offer or force upon the parents loans to cover the difference–Trump U on the elementary/secondary level. A similar situation: Six and a half million FAMILIES were made homeless in the subprime meltdown because their hopes were played on.

            What do we need in place to prevent the immiseration of people who are more than willing to sacrifice for the betterment of their child’s lot?

          • Mr. Eshelman, re: 5. There isn’t a tax savings associated with school voucher programs.

            Apart from this possibly being used by various pro-voucher types, this argument does not present much of an extra opportunity for a grifter.

          • Mr. Eshelman, re: 6. Standardized testing and other performance indicators are not required.

            “See #3.”

            If the state indeed is overseeing private schools as you state, then this argument does not stand. ( personally greatly dislike standardized testing.) However, are the performance indicators equally applied and appraised? If they are not, grifters will make off with the cash.

          • Mr. Eshelman, re #7 Market forces don’t always work.

            As an aside, public education is a monopoly the way Christianity is a monopoly. Just as there are Anabaptists, Mormons and Catholics, there are city schools, suburban schools, rich community schools, poor community schools, ad infinitum. Given their conflicting claims (just like schools and school districts) only an atheist would remark that spirituality doesn’t work.

            To the point– the grifter relies on market forces not working. He needs his target to believe against the evidence– and the market rarely provides the evidence needed for “caveat emptor.” We assume the buyer has the ability to value a product’s worth, but in the case of education, very few people can go beyond the opinion of their friends and the appearance of the campus. In my town, one popular school board member always declared, “You can talk to us anytime.” What wasn’t said was that you might not get any answer at all.

            So, as in the case of the wealthy who recommended Bernie Madoff’s financial services to one another, all a grifter need do is have a few influential contacts (Elizabeth Holmes and Jeffery Epstein also come to mind). What do we need in place to prevent this from happening?

          • Mr. Eshelman, re: #8, Market forces can also dilute the educational resources of a community.

            Market forces determine how money is spent. If money is spent on choosing A o ver B, then B loses out in the transaction. Unless parents pay additional school taxes, the money they receive in a voucher is a loss to a public school.

            As choices in the market are almost always made on imperfect information, it is almost always impossible for parents to choose on their own whether they are getting the “biggest bang for their buck.”

            The distorting effect of advertising in the marketplace is not widely known among the public– look at the Christmas must-have toys of the past– parents fighting over Beanie Babies and Teddy Ruxpins???? America’s Puritan ethic started the negative advertising against education (“Our children will be damned for their laziness under the schoolmaster”) and when education became a public duty, it didn’t let up. Even today, we have college professors who bemoan the quality of their new charges in the same terms their predecessors did in the 1850’s. It’s no more valid now than it was then, when they were teaching the kids who would launch the American economy, lead the world in public health, attract the best college students in all the countries in the world and give Americans the highest standard of living (judged by consumption) ever achieved in the history of the human race.

            So, grifters can really drive a truck through this hole, appealing to the discontent in any person, getting them to focus on their particular child’s education as a problem solvable within their means (an illusion) and having that parent be another cog in the diversion of money into their own pocket.

            How do we guard against that?

          • Re: “Taxpayers who use a publicly-funded voucher do not pay an extra amount of school tax to replace that which the government has given them in a voucher.”

            Why should a public school receive funding for a student attending an independent school?

          • Re: The Vershire School?

            How obscure can you get? I admit to knowing next to nothing about the Vershire School. What I do know is that Vershire was a small private school serving mostly out-of-state students in grades 9-12 that closed voluntarily more than 30 years ago. There is a video about the school’s history and a NYT story about former teachers who claimed that there was drug abuse, sexual misconduct, falsification of student transcripts, and unsafe living conditions. Kinda sounds like today’s public schools. But there’s a big difference. When the allegations about Vershire surfaced, the school closed. Public schools have no such accountability.

          • Re: “You pointed out how then-State Auditor Tom Salmon uncovered thousands of dollars of funds misallocated to public schools, which funds were returned;”

            The funds were not returned, and no one was held accountable.

          • Mr. Eshelman, re: the US spending $13,800 per student versus Vermont paying vouchers of $17,000. Again, you are right: I was too lazy to verify the claim. What I did find was this: Finland, judged the best school system in the world vs. US, and how they compare with per student spending and how great a role private education plays in making the Finnish system so good.. (Note that “private schools” in Finland only account for 3-4% of all students, so they can’t account for a disproportionate share of the excellence ):

            Finland spends about 11,200 USD on a given student every year. This includes spending at all education levels (primary, secondary etc.). This is, again, lower than all of the countries mentioned here. United States tops the list, spending ~15700 USD on a student every year. (https://www.quora.com/search?q=cost%20of%20finnish%20education%20per%20student)

            and:

            . . .There are 16 small Christian schools [in Finland] (of which two give something like senior-high-school education), foreign language schools (where they use a foreign language in all work), and some adhering to alternative pedagogy such as Steiner (Waldorf) education in Finland. Also some privately, or independently, run schools for adults corresponding to what is senior high in the US.
            Maybe 3 to 4 % of kids attend these “private schools”. They are attractive mainly because they are so small, meaning the teachers have lots of time per student. (Not that Finnish public comprehensive schools – often with “lukio”, corresponding to senior high in the U.S. – were big in the American sense. Nor are there any guards, lockdowns of classrooms, or restrictions – like you actually need a Pass to go pee or poop during class! – typically employed in the land of the free called America, either. )
            (https://www.quora.com/Are-there-private-schools-in-Finland?share=1)

            Regarding infant mortality, the CIA ranks the us 174th out of 227 countries, or in other words 53d from the top (https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/field/infant-mortality-rate/country-comparison). Even Slovenia is ahead of us, but they’re not a major industrialized country.

          • Re” Has state regulation of private schools improved since then?

            Didn’t you answer this question with the fact that you had to go back more than 30 years to find the Vershire School controversy? Have there been any similar circumstances over the last 30 years?

          • Re: “whose parents got nothing back.”

            So, what’s your point? What do the parents of the public-school students that graduate without meeting grade level standards get back?

          • Re: Comparing students to the environment.

            What? This is a nonsensical statement, no matter how its written.

          • BTW: A grifter is someone who swindles you by means of deception or fraud. And as you pointed out earlier with the Williamsburg Charter High School, when there is fraud and deception in a private school, the perpetrators are held to account. When the Vershire School crossed the line, it closed. And as State Auditor Salmon pointed out, but when the fraud and deception is in the public schools, students, parents, and taxpayers have no recourse.

  4. Re: “This is especially interesting because the senators hail from two counties that have some experience with alternative schooling options.”

    Don’t forget the other 90 or so Vermont school districts that tuition students to independent schools.

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