3-13-15 – We Need More Small, Entrepreneurial, Independent Schools

by Matthew Strong

“We just need more money and more time,” is the standard response from supporters of ever expanding public school budgets and programs when faced with cuts or new ideas.

More Money:

According to the Vermont Agency of Education website, in the 2013-2014 school year, there were 85,460 students in Vermont public schools. And, according to Governor Shumlin’s proposed budget, the state will spend $1,555,850,283 (yes, you read that correctly, $1.55 Billion) to educate them for one year. That comes out to $18,205 per student. Where is that money coming from? Your pocket, with increases in the midst of recession.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 9.36.17 AM


More Time:

As the above graph shows, from the Agency of Education, student test scores are not only going in the wrong direction, if the increasing amount of money being spent isn’t even budging these test scores, then no amount of time will matter.

An Alternative:

Christina DeGraff, the President and Executive Director of Imagine School House in the Fairfax area, along with her husband and another founder, started their own independent school when they felt that their children weren’t being served by the “one size fits all” approach in their public school. “As far as we know, there are no other independent schools in Franklin County, serving our grade levels.”

She has a very different take on school budgets and outcomes. “Our tuition was $5,500 this year, it’s going to be $5,500 this coming year,” she said in a phone interview. “But, I would not try to compare our costs with the state spending (per pupil), it would be apples and oranges since we have no transportation costs or high overhead costs. But our budget was built from the ground up, the real nuts of bolts of an immersive education designed to create the love of learning” she said.

They’ve only been operating for a year, but have great results with the people who matter; parents and students. They are unfettered by the federal and state mandates that are drowning the public school system, which gives them freedom to actually teach.

“We don’t participate in standardized testing even though we are a ‘standards based school.’ But our parent satisfaction, what I would call ‘customer satisfaction’ is doing great. All 9 of our students are coming back, we will be at our maximum capacity of 12, and we will have to start a waiting list. We are exploring expanding into 6th, 7th, and 8th grade by 2017.”

“I get calls weekly from parents who are frustrated by their schools, but are also equally frustrated by having to pay large tax bills on top of tuition, and that is a tough thing to swallow; the idea that you’re paying for something you aren’t using. If we had school vouchers, we probably would have been at capacity almost immediately.”

With the recent school budget votes across the state on town meeting day, even though it was an improvement in rejection, 20 budgets voted down versus 37 last year, Vermont could use a change in direction. When it comes to money and time, voters are losing patience for both. With the idea of school choice spreading across the country, it may be time to put control of education back in the hands of the people that matter, parents who pay taxes, and teachers who can have the freedom to teach again.

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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

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