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Stamford High School Student Fights State On Dual Enrollment Decision

Howard Weiss-Tisman
Anna Butcher, 18, stands near the Vermont-Massachusetts border near her home in Stamford, Vt. Butcher goes to high school in Massachusetts and the Agency of Education says the teenager can't use the dual enrollment program to attend college.

Under Vermont’s Dual Enrollment program, high school students can take college courses, and have the state pay for it.

Advocates say the program saves families money, and gives college-bound students a jump on their post-secondary career.

But some students who live along the border and go to high school in another state aren’t allowed to access the state funding that pays for the college courses.

One high school student is fighting to change that.Anna Butcher, 18, lives in Stamford, a tiny town that’s tucked away in a valley in southern Vermont.

The Green Mountains rise steeply to the north, and the closest Vermont high school can only be reached over some windy mountain roads. Massachusetts is a straight shot south.

Many Stamford residents work in Williamstown and North Adams. The town doesn’t have a high school and most local students go to Mount Greylock Regional High School, in Williamstown, Mass.

Butcher says she struggled in high school. When she found out Vermont students could take college courses, she was all in.

“I went to Mount Greylock for about two-and-a-half years and it didn’t work for me,” she said. “I was not functioning well. I was not learning well and I was really dreading going back to high school. I honestly didn’t know if I was going to be able to graduate if I had to go back there. And so I was really, really struggling to find a way not to go back to Mount Greylock full time."

So Butcher began exploring dual enrollment.

She contacted Community College of Vermont in Bennington, got a hold of her guidance counselor at Mount Greylock, and checked in with her old school in Stamford.

Everyone told her she was a prime candidate to take advantage of dual enrollment.

But then the Vermont Agency of Education weighed in.

“They decided that it couldn’t be tracked, that it would be too much money,” Butcher says. “And, the way I interpreted it was that I was being excluded. I was being told, ‘I’m sorry. You don’t count.’”

The agency says there’s no system in place for an out-of-state school to work with Vermont.

But Butcher says that’s not her fault.

"The way I interpreted it was that I was being excluded. I was being told, 'I'm sorry. You don't count.'" - Anna Butcher, student at Mount Greylock High School

So she talked to her legislators to try to get the law changed.

“They’re Vermont kids,” said Dover-I Rep. Laura Sibilia, who represents Stamford in the State House. “Just because they’re on the edge of Vermont doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the same benefits as, you know, the kids on the inside of Vermont.”

Sibilia said she supports a Senate bill that seeks to make it easier for students who go to high school outside the state to use dual enrollment.

In a prepared statement, the Agency of Education said it is "working with school districts, students and parents to ensure that everyone who is eligible for dual enrollment is able to access it."

But in testimony before the Senate Education Committee, agency officials said allowing kids like Butcher to use dual enrollment would “pose significant challenges,” including tracking the state spending.

Butcher’s mother, Heidi Peterson, has been working with her daughter to get the law changed.

Butcher's family paid out of pocket for her to take classes at CCV. Peterson says the legislative process has been frustrating.

“It’s an entitlement. It doesn’t say students can do this if we feel like it or if we happen to have the money,” said Peterson. “It says students are entitled to two if we meet the criteria; two vouchers. We meet the criteria except for the rules that they put into place based on the legislation.”

The Senate bill didn’t make it over to the House in time for crossover, but the change could still be included in a larger education bill.

Butcher’s graduating in June. Peterson says she’ll be looking for other families to continue the fight next year if the legislature doesn’t make the change in this session


Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state. 
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