Minter, Scott want school choice preserved in consolidations
MONTPELIER — Vermont's two major party candidates for governor both say they want to preserve school choice in school district consolidations where it could be lost.
Vermont allows students in school districts that don't have elementary or high schools to attend public schools or certain independent schools of their choosing in other towns and even other states, with tuition paid by their district.
A law passed last year encourages districts to merge to address Vermont's declining school enrollment and rising costs. It can result in some communities that send students out of town for school to lose school choice. That would happen if those communities merge with a district that has schools offering all grades and the school continues to operate.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott said parents should be able to choose where their child is educated because some schools are a better fit for kids. He also sees school choice as a way to increase Vermont's stagnant, and in some years, declining population by attracting out-of-state families.
"Over the next 15 or 20 years we could maybe be a magnet for some looking to Vermont to have more choice for their kids," he said.
Democratic candidate Sue Minter said she now has a greater understanding of how critically important choice is to many communities in the rural state. "And I've seen the public-private schools first hand and how I wouldn't want to undermine kids' opportunities to have the quality education that I see there. So I will certainly have the goal to sustain school choice," she said.
The Vermont Department of Education says last school year 6,667 students from so-called tuition towns — those that don't have schools — attended school elsewhere. Vermont also has public high school choice for all students if they want to attend another public high school in Vermont. The department said 385 students took part last year.
Both candidates agree with the goals of the consolidation law — to allow kids more educational opportunities while reducing costs through efficiencies — and think it's a good first step.
If elected, Minter said she would propose extending by a year the timeline for districts that are merging. She also would allow more flexibility for districts, particularly rural ones that are struggling to come up with plans.
"By helping us to have less time pressure I hope and believe we can come up with different visions for how we move forward in the future," she said.
Scott said he would like to see more latitude in the law and in all schools, including more innovations in education like flexible and individual learning plans, sharing of resources and better use of technology.
He also would encourage more technology education. "I believe the trades are going to something that's going to be lucrative in the future and I think that we should encourage our youth to take a part in that," he said.
Minter is proposing two years of tuition-free community and technical college for Vermont students, based on a program started in four other states. Every student would be matched with a volunteer mentor. The program would be paid for by a franchise fee on primarily out-of-state banks, she said.
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