A lot of things happened at the Pawlet-Rupert-Wells merger public forum last Thursday night, but one thing I especially noticed was the way that certain phrases got picked up and reused by commenters on both sides of the school choice versus designation debate.
Three different commenters called the existing system— which designation would seek to replicate under the new Act 46 merger scenario— “a sweet deal.” This gave me pause. What’s so sweet about it? you might ask.
In a nutshell: when we send our kids to middle and high school in Granville and Salem, New York, we are getting a bargain price. Everyone agrees on this. We can educate our kids for roughly $8,000 per student tuition, even though in Vermont the state average clocks in at well above that amount: over $14,000.
So great!- right? But wait… why is New York State’s high school tuition so much lower than Vermont’s? Have they figured out something we don’t know? When I looked it up, I found something fascinating: New York State doesn’t spend less on education. In fact, contrary to what was said at the public forum, Vermont does not spend more on per student education than any other state in the nation. New York does.
I found a Washington Post article which lists the top five highest education spenders per student… Vermont isn’t one of them. But New York is. In fact, as of 2015, New York is the top spender of all.
I found lots of information online, varying by year, but all of it pointed to the same thing: New York pays more than any other state:
What gives? How can Granville and Salem secondary tuition be so low, when the state average for New York is so high? According to the most recent information I could find, actual Granville tuition per student is: $24,241. Salem is: $23,237.
So when we send our children to New York high schools, who is making up that $15,000 or $16,000 difference? New York State taxpayers, that’s who. As committee advisor Dan French explained to the merger committee at a recent meeting, New York provides “greater support” for education from a state level.
Is it ethical, I wonder, to combat rising education costs by sending our kids to a state that seems to have a worse problem with escalating tuition than we do? And asking them to pay for it?
Even if you the kind of person to say “ethics-schmethics,” consider this: there’s another, more practical concern here, which is the possibility that New York State residents will awake from their slumber to realize that we’ve been riding on the back of their education system courtesy a big fat loophole. And they could raise tuition. We have no guarantee that they won’t. Here’s a thought: what if they charged us what it really costs? By comparison with $23,000- $24,000 tuition, School Choice per pupil tuition waver of $14,000 starts looking downright frugal.
Which brings me to the other phrase I heard more than once from commenters at the meeting. In the absence of having our own secondary school, they said, School Choice is simply “the right thing to do.” As in, “Yes, rising taxes are hard, but we’re a community. We should all pull together and give our children choice in education because it’s the right thing to do.”
So ask yourself: down the line, what would you want to be in a position to tell our community’s children? That we based their education on “a sweet deal” with no long-term guarantees… or on “the right thing to do”?
No matter which side of the debate you find yourself on, I highly encourage you to show up tomorrow night for the merger committee’s vote, Wed. Sept 7th, 7PM at the Wells School.