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McClaughry: Education Summit

Today, Gov. Phil Scott convenes an Education Summit to address “the crisis of affordability and how it impacts the opportunities we are able to provide our children.” In his letter announcing the Summit to education leaders, the governor said that he wants greater long-term cost containment in the public school system.

The governor also took the mandate plunge, saying that “We need to establish the same boundaries for per pupil spending across the state… if your student count is declining, districts should do everything possible - including consolidation of grades and schools or other innovations - to lower per pupil expenditures.”

He added, hopefully, that “this standard does not have to result in cuts to programming for kids, and in fact can increase academic opportunities.” At the same time he reiterated his call for “a cradle-to-career continuum of learning that understands the capacity to invest more in early care and learning.”

The governor never hints that the savings from consolidation, efficiencies, economies of scale and mandates will put the brakes on ever rising taxpayer burdens. Rather, he reiterates his support for ever more “investments in early care and learning” to consume the savings hoped for through cost containment, instead of reducing school property tax rates to make them more affordable.

A further disappointment in the governor’s letter is the complete absence of the two words that most alarm the public school establishment: “competition” and “choice.” He seems content with forced school district consolidation that will at best offer parental choice among the surviving public schools in new unified school districts, but offering choice and competition is clearly not on his agenda.

A better solution for restraining education costs, and thus property tax relief, is not to be found in Montpelier-imposed cost control. It lies in changing the rules of the system to expand competition among providers, local initiative, consumer information and choice, plus innovative learning methods ranging from apprenticeship and mentoring to distance learning. This would result in more satisfied and better educated children, more efficiency in the use of tax dollars, and lower property tax burdens.

Real reform means customer choice, flexibility, competition, innovation and opportunity - not a Montpelier bureaucracy using an ever-bigger hammer to enforce its budgetary will on an ever more costly government-run school system long overdue for radical change.

John McClaughry is founder and vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute, a Vermont policy research and education organization.
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