On March 30, 2022

Backward on school choice

Dear Editor,

In former Vermont secretary of education Rebecca Holcome’s commentary published in the Mountain Times, March 23, titled “Unintended consequences: Vermont Senate Bill 219 on course to hand a weapon to the religious right” is pure sophistry. If anything, school choice is the epitome of educational democracy. And, if anything, Vermont’s public-school monopoly is the epitome of educational tyranny.

For example, Ms. Holcombe’s characterization that “… private schools still can choose which students with disabilities they’ll enroll” is disingenuous at best. Public schools also have the option of choosing “…which students with disabilities they’ll enroll.” The onus for educating disabled students rests with the school district, not any given school, public or independent, residing in that district.

If a dyslexic student lives in a given school district, and the local public school isn’t equipped to educate that student, the school can choose to add that service to its curricula or not. If the school chooses to forego those services, the student’s IEP Team has the option of sending that student to a school specializing in providing dyslexic student services — at school district expense. But the IEP Team can’t force any given school, public or independent, to provide those services. But again, the school district (LEA) is required to pay whatever it takes to provide that dyslexic student with what is called a ‘free and appropriate education’ (FAPE).

“FAPE is an individualized educational program that is designed to meet the child’s unique needs and from which the child receives educational benefit, and prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living,” [according to a definition on wrightslaw.com.

The Greenwood School, in Putney, Vermont, is an independent school specializing in the education of dyslexic students, and LEAs often choose to send their students there, rather than invest heavily in a specialized program for only one or two students that may only be required for a few years. Never mind that Greenwood has a great track-record of successful outcomes and the public school has no track record at all. I can elaborate further if anyone cares to indulge this rather complex topic. There are always exceptions to consider. But suffice it to say, Ms. Holcombe is clearly an advocate for the established public school special interests that stalk their funding at the great public school monopoly watering-hole — without accepting any responsibility for the student outcomes they create.

Jay Eshelman, Westminster
(Eshelman is a business owner and a former Work Force Investment Board and River Valley Technical Center board member.)

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