Wilton: And the kids? | Perspective

Vermont has the oldest school choice system in the country — and the simplest. Started in 1869, Vermont’s school choice system provides that any Vermont school-aged child who lives in a district without a government school can attend any accredited school in the world, and Vermont will pay the cost of tuition in an amount set by the Vermont Agency of Education. With the exception of Maine, which followed Vermont’s lead four years later in 1873, no other state allowed parents to choose their children’s school for more than a century.

Today, many states are following Vermont’s lead and moving toward greater school choice for families, especially after parents got a first-hand look at public education during the recent pandemic. Ironically, Vermont’s ruling class is planning to dismantle our unique education system in order to prevent a few students from choosing religious schools.

Our ruling class opposes the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that where there is a government benefit such as the Vermont tuition program, parents must be allowed to use that benefit to pay for tuition. nuns of their children. The court held that the First Amendment’s free exercise clause requires that such a benefit cannot be denied to parents who seek to exercise their religious freedom rights by sending their children to a religious school.

Missing from this discussion is any mention of the children of Vermont and what is best for them.

Children who are different are often bullied, ignored or punished in public schools. A transgender middle school student was teased and bullied at his public school, and found refuge in a small independent school where he was treated with respect and dignity. A boy in a wheelchair, considered a nuisance in his public school, flourished in an independent school, where he was welcomed and treated as a full member of the community. A young girl with a speech delay was punished at her public school for defending herself from a bully who teased her about her speech and threatened to kill her dog. Since her parents cannot afford an independent school, she continues to suffer.

These are all true stories described in a lawsuit brought by parents who want their children to benefit from school choice. With the exception of the lucky few who live in a city of school choice, Vermont has become an education monopoly. Like any monopoly, it has become rigid, doctrinaire and sectarian as demonstrated by the objection to the free exercise of religion in the school curriculum. Recently, students were punished for chanting “Let’s Go Brandon” at a Randolph Union High School game, and at another school, a cook was fired for writing “Let’s Go Brandon” on a school menu. Two years ago, a school principal was fired for commenting on the waving of a Black Lives Matter flag. Diversity of opinion is not allowed in Vermont public schools.

If the ruling class really wanted diversity, they would support school choice, which gives families the ability to choose the education that is best for their children. But the ruling class does not want diversity and does not trust parents to choose the best education for their children.

According to the Vermont Historical Society, during the 19th century, Vermont’s educational diversity resulted in a system “active with change and alive with spirit, which makes education…one of the most vital”. The system “reflected the belief of a free and independent people that education was a fundamental right; that the welfare of each student was their greatest obligation; that the purpose of the school was not to repress, examine or standardize youth… but to give them enlightenment, understanding and fellowship, to aid them in the development of their own personality and to his innate abilities…. Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society, 1936, Vol IV, No. 3, at page 118.

This spirit of diversity, of treating each child as an individual personality with celebrated and nurtured talents, should return to Vermont’s education system. Let’s be the country’s leader on educational diversity again – and not fall into a total government monopoly that increasingly seeks to “standardize” children and serves, not the children, but the ideology of the ruling class .

Wendy Wilton lives in Milton.