Letter: Education equity for Pawlet, Rupert

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To the Editor:Residents of Rupert and Pawlet have a dilemma. These towns offer public educational opportunities to children grades Pre-K through grade 6. But there is no public option for grades 7-12. Many years ago, nearby Salem and Granville, New York were designated as "sending schools" for Pawlet and Rupert students, as they agreed to accept Vermont children at a subsidized non-resident rate that comes in at about half of the Vermont State average. This worked well for many years. Pawlet and Rupert pay less for tuition and many families enjoy the New York schools and their communities. But today, decades later, it's clear to many parents designating New York schools on cost and convenience alone is not enough, and change is needed. Currently 47 percent of Pawlet and Rupert students choose public or independent schools in Vermont, not the designated New York schools. A main reason is many feel their children will get a better education here in Vermont. The fundamental goal of Act 46 is to provide substantial equity in the quality and variety of educational opportunities statewide. Students have rights as Vermont residents to an education consistent with the values set by the Vermont Agency of Education. This can be seen via side-by-side comparisons on breadth and depth of classes offered. Also included in Vermont state standards are several provisions not available in New York schools because formal partnerships must be established between the schools and the State of Vermont. Most notably, Vermont high school students have access to a year of early college and two college courses provided by the State of Vermont. The solution is to offer "school choice" rather than "designation" to New York schools. There is resistance to change due to cost. Because New York tuition is subsidized, a change to "choice" would require reimbursing the full state average tuition for those families using Vermont schools. While this may seem like a dilemma, it isn't one at all. Voting to keep designation violates the goal of Act 46 as the decision takes away "equity". In the current scenario, parents in Pawlet and Rupert who want their children to attend nearby Vermont schools are forced to pay more for a Vermont education than those in any other Vermont town. And parents unable to afford the difference between the Rupert and Pawlet reduced-reimbursed amount and the actual school amount have few choices but to accept reduced educational opportunity.Over the last few months rumors of large tax hikes abound, making the scary assumption if we vote for school choice, taxes would dramatically increase. These claims are vastly exaggerated. Seventy-two percent of Rupert and 67 percent of Pawlet residents have tax rates that are income-sensitive and will not be affected. The difference between "choice" versus "designation" is estimated at $155/year for most. Additional examples of tax estimates and education differences can be found at: www.rupertvt.com.School Choice in Vermont is a completely different discussion than what it is on a national level. By voting school choice, we are not looking to take funds from public schools and privatize them. Because Vermont is a small state and we do not have public options in our towns, school choice is the best choice to keep Vermont students studying in Vermont, and receiving the education rights they deserve through the public and independent schools operating under Vermont's education guidelines. Melanie Cole, Robin Kadet and Judy Sawyer LakeFamilies for Education in VT


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