Vermont Looks to Untangle Confusing School Choice Changes


Republican lawmakers in Vermont have announced plans to introduce legislation in the next session that would preserve school choice in the state as a new law is causing a number of school districts to merge.

House Minority Leader Don Turner said Republicans in Vermont are looking to push for “a clarifying legislative fix” for the new school choice law in the state.

The controversial law, Act 46, would result in the 300 school districts in Vermont merging to create larger structures that would each enroll at least 900 students.  After a certain period of time when the districts would volunteer to merge, the state would then have the authority to require certain districts to come together.  The law asks for this to be completed by 2020.

Although Turner said he does support to the new law, he added that a prior law that does not allow school districts in the state from both operating a school and paying tuition for students to attend schools outside the district could prevent the streamlining the Act 46 is looking to achieve.

Last month, the State Board of Education said that combined districts could either operate a school or provide tuition money for students to attend schools not within the district, but they could not do both.

Some education professionals feel that offering school choice would increase the cost of operating public schools through an increase in per-pupil costs, reports Bruce Parker for Vermont Watchdog.

“That kind of construct, that would allow tuitioning and operating, could be a costly endeavor,” said Jeff Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association. “The reason is because you are talking about maintaining an infrastructure of public schools and providing tuition for students who might not utilize that school.”

A new ruling from the State Board of Education requires new school districts to have the same rules with regards to school choice for every community it serves.  The law is causing controversy within the state as a number of towns are asking to keep their current school choice options, writes April Burbank for The Burlington Free Press.

Turner said he would not have voted for the new law had he known that school choice options would be affected.

“It was and is the intention of our caucus to protect school choice where it exists and has existed in most cases for over a century and a half,” Turner said in a statement.

Opponents of the new law argue that it will diminish the sense of community present in small towns.  Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne is one such critic who is pushing for additional changes to made to the law, including the recommended district size of 900 students.