If You Want To Save School Choice In Vermont, You Need To Show Up

by Rob Roper

This past week a parent from West Windsor got in his car, drove an hour and a half to Montpelier, and, when unexpected floor activity delayed scheduling by an hour or so, hung around waiting for the chance to testify before the House Education Committee for fifteen minutes.

His message: Please eliminate school choice across the state.

You can see Video of his testimony HERE.

This must have been music to ears on this committee as a many of them, if they had their druthers, would gleefully do just that. However, Jason Gaddis unwittingly gave perhaps the best argument FOR school choice anyone could make, all while illustrating the utter absurdity of those (like those on this committee) who are opposed to school choice.

Mr. Gaddis is from Windsor, which has a public high school. The towns surrounding Windsor enjoy school choice under Vermont’s 150-year-old tuitioning system. The objection Mr. Gaddis has to school choice is that given a choice nobody is choosing the public high school in Windsor. Instead, according to Mr. Gaddis, they are choosing to go to the Sharon Academy (an independent school), the public school in Hartford, or the public school in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Why are parents choosing these other options? “Hanover is a high powered school with lots of kids and great results,” says Mr. Gaddis. “So when you look at the matriculation data, the highly selective colleges that the kids that graduate from Hanover – 25% of the class is going to highly selective schools…. So, that’s one of the best in the state, and they’re not in state…. Vastly different outcomes for your child [if you want her] to go to a highly selective college.”

Sharon Academy and Harford, he also admits, provide better outcomes for their students, and, not for nothing, it costs the taxpayers less money send the kids to the better performing schools.

So, argues Mr. Gaddis, the logical solution is to eliminate choice and force the kids currently going to the better, more cost effective schools to go to the more expensive, otherwise unviable institution with poor student outcomes in hopes that the poor school might improve as a result. This is what he calls “fair.” (Again, as absurd as it is, there are people on this committee who agree with him!)

But, it doesn’t end there. Mr. Gaddis also complains that the citizens of the choice towns enjoy higher property values than he does. “Towns in the surrounding area, their values are inflated by about 50%… Our town has seen a 12% decrease in the home sales over the past year… and it’s largely, I would contend, over the school choice issue….”

He went on, “There was the possibility that Norwich, Sharon, Stratford and Thetford, the four towns north of us, could have joined into a union that would have become a choice union…. That would have made those towns more attractive, so our values would have decreased more.” So, goes his “thinking”, let’s adopt a policy that devalues everybody’s property and repels in-migration rather than expand the policy that increases value of everybody’s property and attracts new citizens. Brilliant.

All this reminds me of a Russian joke about a farmer named Igor who discovers a genie in a lamp. Offered one wish, Igor explains that his neighbor Ivan has ten cows. “And, you want ten cows like Ivan,” smiles the genie. “No,” says a confused Igor. “I want you to kill all of Ivan’s cows.” I think Vermont has found its Igor in Mr. Gaddis.

School choice in Vermont is a better, more cost effective, more flexible system that benefits students, taxpayers, and property owners, not to mention adds to the vitality of communities by attracting new young families. If Mr. Gaddis had two brain cells to rub together he would be demanding that his town be granted school choice and all the benefits that come with it.

But, for all the folks reading this who are sniggering from the comfort of their armchairs at Mr. Gaddis and his ridiculous arguments and outrageous conclusions, a wise person once said that victory in politics goes to those who show up. Mr. Gaddis showed up.

Wednesday, February 24th is “Save Our School Choice Day” in Montpelier, highlighted by a press conference at 1:30 pm in the Cedar Creek Room of the State House. Parents, educators, students and citizens who value 150 years of school choice in Vermont are invited to spend some time in the State House to demand of our legislators that they FIX ACT 46 to protect and preserve school choice in Vermont. Please, show up!


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

samuel shultis February 15, 2016 at 4:01 pm

What an indictment of the public high school system in Windsor. Mr. Gaddis may be an architect but his blue print on school choice is equipped with blinders firmly attached. When asked “why are they leaving”, Mr. Gaddis said “great results” in other schools. So what’s the issue here? Fix your dysfunctional school system or quit your whining. Ahhh …. but then you would have to address a union?


jim bulmer February 20, 2016 at 2:27 pm

Five will get you ten that Mr. Gaddis’s testamony will carry the day, not because it justifies his position or is rational, but simply because he supports the forgone conclusion. As always, those who disagree regardless how sound the logic get IGNORED!!!


Paul Biebel February 17, 2016 at 1:01 pm

And all this time, I thought that schools were about “the children”. What was I thinking?


Deborah Goodwin February 17, 2016 at 10:31 pm

There is nothing dysfunctional about the Windsor school. Rather, they, like all public schools must try to educate every kid, including those with learning issues, while private schools can pick and choose among the most engaged students and parents..No wonder they can show “better outcomes” ( and I would LOVE to see those statistics!) School choice directs resources away from public schools into private institutions (like Sharon Academy), private schools that are elitist and not accountable to any common standards. School choice is unfair and discriminatory, unless we want a voucher system for ALL students In Vermont, and want to establish charter schools.


Rob February 17, 2016 at 10:44 pm

Thanks for your post, Deborah, though it is not quite accurate. Though not all independent schools are certified for special needs students (many are, such as the town academies), many take in especial needs students for no extra compensation. Look at the Compass School in Westminster, which actively seeks out the hard luck kids and is achieving stellar results for $14,000 per year. Similar stories come out of Thaddeus Stephens school — kids who are special needs who the public system is failing, but an independent environment allows them to thrive — and without the stigma of being labeled “special needs.” But I do agree with you that we should have a school choice system for ALL students, and hope that you will fight for that eventual outcome.


Jason February 23, 2016 at 3:20 am

I beg to differ Deborah – Schools like Sharon Academy are able to yield higher results with kids who have special needs because they are flexible, adapt, and can assess and restructure much more quickly and at a much lower cost than public schools. Our town has many kids at Sharon – some have special needs and all are fantastic but the town is still charged significantly less than any tuition for the local public schools. So as a town we pay less, get better results for our kids, and even get better results for kids with special needs. I’m not seeing any downside to choice…


Dave March 3, 2016 at 6:53 pm

Several facts to consider:

Teachers at independent schools (who are not unionized) get paid significantly less than teachers at public schools. The cost savings thus, are largely on the backs of teachers–something on the order of $10,000 per teacher (at least) per year. We need to be clear that choice= driving down wages. If we are cool with that collectively, then great, but it is part o the equation and needs to be front and center as part of this discussion.

School choice is not truly free. Not all families have equal access to transportation that allows. them to ferry children to far flung choices. Public schools spend a considerable amount on busing. To do a truly apples to apples comparison on costs, you’d have to account for transportation costs. (For instance, some students get to choice school on highly subsidized public transit). Public subsidies that support this transportation should be counted into the per students costs.

There are pluses to school choice and in particular to small school communities and personalized learning. There is no reason, however, that these benefits cannot be more effectively integrated into the existing public school system.


Rob March 3, 2016 at 7:25 pm

Thanks for the comment, Dave. A couple of points: Some teachers in independent schools earn less than unionized public school teachers, but others make more. The headmaster of the independent Lyndon Institute just said in a presentation in Stowe that they pay their teachers on average $5000/year more than public school teachers. The transportation issue is a red herring. Look at all of the choices kids in the NE Kingdom have, and, in this poorest region of the state, the transportation issues have been worked out. When tuition is attached to the student, the schools have a tremendous incentive to transport that kid from home to their school.They make it work. If kids are using public transportation for this, great! Why duplicate an expensive process. Lots of carpooling happens as well — another thing we should encourage.


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