School Choice Week Brings an Army of Supporters

by David Flemming

IMG_20180124_112715Vermont’s headlining National School Choice Week event aimed to raise awareness for the impact that parent and child choice of schools can have on educational outcomes. It did not disappoint. At 11:02 AM on January 24, more than 200 students and teachers from all across Vermont trouped up the stairs of the Statehouse and met with several Vermont legislators in support of school choice. By accounts from several attendees clad in yellow school choice scarves, attendance was dramatically up from last year.

Time and again, opponents of school choice have tried to emphasize the one size fits all approach for education. But several students disputed this notion, and gave witness to the idea that some students will never thrive at certain schools.

High school student Jae VanDerWielen gave her powerful testimony to all present: “Before I went to Vermont, I went to a larger school that had approximately 800 students. The school supported sports but not the arts. I had been performing since I was 8 years old and it was hard not to take the electives that I was most invested in. I felt a strong urge to leave when I was 12 or 13. I started looking for a school that I could really fit into. Eventually I found one. It was 2 hours away from home and the cost was $59,600. I felt sure that I could get into that school, and I did. But I knew there was no way my family could afford it. I went into my freshman year crushed knowing I was going to a school I didn’t belong in. I started under-performing and feeling upset all of the time. It wasn’t until my family had the idea of moving to an area of Vermont that had school choice that I felt joy again. I looked closely at two schools that had school choice in my area and I fell in love with Long Trail. Long Trail had all the elements of what I was looking for in a school and most importantly it had a strong arts program.”

Now, that would be a powerful marketing campaign for Vermont that could address Vermont’s stagnant population: you and your family should come to Vermont because you can choose what school your children can go to!

IMG_20180124_125138Leslie Hiner, lead attorney for EdChoice, an education reform organization, asked those in attendance at the Capitol Plaza lunch to recognize the dangers for school choice that are in play within Vermont: “Your town-tuitioning is at serious risk right now. And I guess it’s the sort of thing because you’ve had it since 1869. You take it for granted. And that should never happen. It’s at that point when this thing can all slip away. For as much as the kids in the room- you’re very fortunate kids. But your kids may not be this fortunate. Don’t let that happen. Fight for what you know is right. Talk to your legislators. Talk your neighbors. Get out there. Make a scene!”

We should remember that school choice is one of the last remaining battlegrounds in Vermont where liberty is the norm and not the exception. If we lose ground now, it will take far more effort to gain it back. Better to due our duty now, and protect the right to education for the next generation of Vermonters.

David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Denault January 27, 2018 at 6:35 am

The simplest answers are often the hardest to find. Universal school choice without a doubt would completely reform education in Vermont overnight!


William Hays January 28, 2018 at 11:48 pm

I wonder if “Jae VanDerWeilen”will fit on a McDonald’s name tag. Another lost FA kid!


Linda Kirker February 1, 2018 at 2:16 am

When a student is free to choose a school that meets their needs and interests, that student is more likely to be invested in learning and personal success. In general, if parents are paying property taxes to support Vermont’s schools, their property tax money should be available to them to use toward tuition to a private school, if that is their choice. It is about freedom and providing the education best suited to a student’s needs and interests. This could open the door to better student outcomes in the State.


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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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