School choice, not Pre-K, key to attracting young families

October 16, 2018

by Rob Roper

In their recent debate, Governor Scott and democratic candidate Christine Hallquist both expressed their policy preference for expanding government-run pre-k programs. Scott favored a smaller approach, using $7 million in new, anticipated sales tax revenue from internet sales to bolster existing programs. Hallquist endorsed spending at least $200 million to massively expand the size and scope of what the state offers. Neither is on the right track.

The debate in question was hosted by Let’s Grow Kids, one of the many organizations in the state that advocates for birth to five “early education.” In a 2016 report compiled by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care outlined in their final report that the real, final cost of a comprehensive birth to five plan would actually cost $849,254,369. A year. Mostly on top of the $1.7 billion we already spend on education in Vermont.

So, Scott wants to crack the door to this budget buster, and Hallquist wants to really kick it open it, but neither is acknowledging the real and explosive implications for property taxes in in the long run.

Sadly, as more and more states adopt publicly funded and governed pre-k programs, the more evidence we have showing that these programs do not benefit children over the long term, and in some cases it appears that they actually do long term harm both academically and behaviorally. However, even more sadly, the pretense that these programs are “for the kids” is being displaced by the argument that they are really about getting young mothers back into the workforce, despite the negative impacts of separating children from their parents at such a young age. To put it another way, pre-k programs have become just another form of corporate welfare.

But, if Vermont really wants to attract more young families, we should focus on expanding our tuitioning system to all families, not just those lucky enough to live in non-operating school districts. School choice, where it exists, already brings young, entrepreneurial families to our state. As the Bernier family of Elmore explained in testimony regarding the Elmore/Morrisville merger, they are a couple working in jobs that can be done from anywhere in the world. They moved from Rhode Island to Elmore in great part because the town offered school choice. When Elmore lost school choice in an Act 46 merger, they moved to another town that still had choice.

Their story is not unique. In fact, after East Haven closed its public schools in 2011 due to declining enrolment and became a choice town, the number of students in the district nearly doubled in just three years from 11-20 at the elementary level and from 11-21 at the secondary levels. (VPR, March 2, 2015)

Statewide school choice is a highly marketable, highly valuable sales pitch that Vermont could own. No other state could offer anything comparable. It benefits children. It benefits families. And, as a solution that does not cost nearly a billion dollars a year to implement, it benefits taxpayers.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

William Hays October 19, 2018 at 9:30 pm

“Let’s Grow Kids” should expand their name to include “…Into Little Socialist-Progressive-Democrats and Do Away with All Forms of Birth Control”. I could go on…


Deanne October 20, 2018 at 2:23 am

I guess it’s a case of the lesser of evils. Why do people assume the government has a right to collect taxes and then tell people what services they must accept? How kind the government would be to “allow” parents to choose their children’s school with state funding.

There would be a lot more money for education if the government didn’t collect school taxes, keep some of the money (costs of collecting, bookkeeping, and all other paper shuffling that wastes money), and then spend the remainder as they decide.

Parents currently have school choice. The question is whether they have to pay once for their children’s education, or twice.


mike October 20, 2018 at 12:45 pm

Typical, got a problem, just throw more good money after bad. Fed up with Vermont politions. Why we continue to elect these incompetents is beyond me.


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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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