By Rob Roper
Newly minted gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Holcombe in her announcement press conference stated that one reason she left her position as education secretary was Gov. Phil Scott’s determination to institute “a statewide voucher plan that would pull millions out of our public schools … and give that money to private schools that mostly benefit privileged Vermonters.”
Firstly, would it were true that Scott had had actually proposed and promoted a statewide voucher system, but he hasn’t. So, there’s that bit of weirdness to the claim. But, regarding the policy directly, here are some thoughts to consider regarding Holcombe’s statement:
In Vermont, the students in 90 or so towns who are lucky enough to have school choice under our 150-year-old tuitioning policy get to pick from both public and independent schools. Why does the former secretary of education think that, if given a choice, parents representing “millions of dollars” will pull out of the public schools and choose Independents? Does the chef know something about what’s in the stew here?
Also, under the current system, where kids are forced to attend the public school they are assigned within imaginary district lines, the wealthy truly are the privileged class with multiple options. If the local school doesn’t work, the wealthy can afford buy their way out of the system by paying tuition to an independent school regardless of access to a voucher. The wealthy are more likely to have the flexibility, financial and otherwise, to choose to live either in a district with the best public schools (usually more expensive for real estate and property taxes), or, having their cake and eating it too, to move to a tuitioning town to get the subsidy for an independent school or the ability to pick the public school of their choice.
It’s the poor kids who are stuck. And if the school they’re stuck in doesn’t happen to be the right fit, that can be an educational death sentence.
Vouchers and school choice bring more equity to publicly funded education. They give the poor an opportunity much more equal to their wealthier counterparts in terms of the ability to find and benefit from an educational environment that is right for them. It gives them economic and political leverage within the public school system to make demands for better service (or we’ll leave along with our money) that currently only wealthier parents can exert.
To support school choice with tuition following the child is to support greater educational, financial, and social equity. Opposing it is to support a monopoly that exploits the poor and, if you look at the disparity in outcomes between income classes, is failing them miserably in the process.