The Rutland Herald published the following Op-Ed, written by Rep. Vicki Strong & Brad Ferland and edited by Meg Hansen on April 6, 2016.
Rest in Peace School Choice: Unless We Act Now
You will not see an obituary for school choice in the local news unless you look carefully. It comes in the form of articles on the front pages and in lead stories on television about school consolidations with regards to Act 46. It has occurred in four communities, and several similar efforts are under way around the state. If you live in Westford, Elmore, Timmouth or Fairfield, then you have already experienced the untimely death of school choice in your community.
You may have read positive reviews that school mergers will improve efficiency and allow the retention of school choice. You may have been told the following: (1) a “no” vote would result in sharp tax increases, and (2) to leverage the allocated incentive dollars for your community, you would had to jump on the bandwagon quickly. Consequently, communities that choose not to merge will be forced to fund the financial benefits offered to merging communities. Such a carrot and stick proposition is playing out unfairly statewide, as it induces towns into making hurried decisions that they might not have chosen otherwise.
In truth, you were misled, as were many legislators, that Act 46 would retain school choice. Worse, voters remain misinformed as they head into merger elections. Perhaps, a town with a small population could still hope to hold on to school choice by special exception. However, the privilege of choice is no longer available to the vast majority of towns that have merged with a non-school choice town.
The resulting disappointment is enormous; Vermonters are losing a proud tradition that has served as a hallmark of life in ninety-four towns all over Vermont for the past 150 years. Legislators who support school choice were hopeful that they could make the necessary adjustments either through sponsored legislation or amendments to an education bill. However, Majority Democrats used every political maneuver available to prevent all such attempts to preserve school choice. The expediency with which they dismissed these important amendments is indeed remarkable.
This significant policy change has not been clearly presented or honestly discussed with the public. To educate Vermonters on the crucial issues at hand, the School Choice Caucus is organizing a public forum in the Statehouse on Thursday, April 7 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm. We want to present our understanding of what is taking place with the loss of school choice, and we look forward to hearing from you on why school choice is vital to your community.
To protect school choice, we must join together in a public show of support and determination. School choice is a unique and valuable privilege that honors Vermont families with the agency to make good decisions for their children. Therefore, we cannot let this issue rest in peace.