Forum, May 3: School Choice in Vermont

Tuesday, May 02, 2017
School Choice in Vermont

This letter is in response to Steve Nelson’s April 30 column, “School Choice is a Dreadful Choice.”

While Nelson got some things right, for example, we must not privatize public schools and Betsy DeVos’ historical agenda is to dismantle public schools, he fails to address an essential question in this debate: Who currently has school choice?

It is the ones with financial means who place high value on schooling, like my family and I imagine Steve Nelson’s. We are the ones who can move to communities with higher-performing public schools, or send our children to private schools if we choose.

What might happen if there was more public school choice in Vermont today? Vermont schools draw students from within boundaries established by Gov. Wentworth in the mid-18th century. One attends the elementary school (and often high school) depending on the town of residence. The concept of public school choice is dramatically different than what U.S. Secretary of Education DeVos and New Hampshire Commissioner of Education Frank Edelbut advocate in that neither private schools nor vouchers are part of this equation. Public schools would continue to be required to accept all students regardless of disability, language spoken or socioeconomic status for free.

What might this look like in the Upper Valley? Well, Hartland, Tunbridge and Strafford all have high school choice while those in neighboring towns do not, and Sharon has school choice for grades 7-12. Look at how many high schools there are in the Upper Valley. Simply traveling north on Interstate 91 from Windsor to Newbury/Ryegate, one finds many high schools: Windsor High School, Hartford High School, Hanover High School (the designated high school for Norwich), Thetford Academy, Rivendell Academy (in Orford but the designated high school for Fairlee), Oxbow High School and and Blue Mountain High School. The same holds true for I-89: Sharon Academy (albeit an “independent school”), South Royalton High School, Whitcomb High School and Randolph High School.

With public school choice, could schools specialize, much in the way that the current vocational-technical high schools in Hartford, Bradford and Randolph can? Could students and families could choose among high schools depending upon the student’s interests? What if one school focused on foreign languages, another on sciences, one on theater and the arts, computers, the outdoors, etc.? It seems that currently our region’s mostly small high schools are compelled to try to be all things to all learners. Could public school choice create opportunities that better meet diverse student passions and aptitude?

Amos Kornfeld


Hope for Climate Action

Your April 29 story, “EPA Website Removes Climate Science Pages,” raises fundamental questions about the mindset and intentions of officials in the White House and at the Environmental Protection Agency. Are they truly ignorant of the decades of peer-reviewed climate work by U.S. and international scientific bodies?  Have they allowed the moneyed climate-deniers to overcome their common sense? Are they hoping to gain political advantage by ignoring the plainly visible current, and predicted future effects, of climate change? Do they really expect the voting public to accept the harmful health effects of continuing air pollution and increasing global warming that will result from canceling the Clean Power Plan? Do they think America will be “greater” if we cede to other countries the job-producing advantages of our country’s scientific and technological leadership in the coming renewable energy economy?

Whatever they are thinking, the administration is clearly at odds with the American electorate. For example, the Yale Climate Change Communication Program reports (April 17) that 69 percent of all registered voters, over half of Republicans and 47 percent of Trump voters believe the U.S. should stick with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Fortunately, a ray of hope for science-based and future-oriented actions on the climate issue has appeared in the Republican-controlled U.S. House: a growing bipartisan caucus of 19 Republicans and 19 Democrats has declared itself “committed to exploring policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate.” On April 26, this group sent a forceful letter to the president urging him to maintain our national commitment to the Paris Agreement. That commitment, the group noted, “will create massive opportunities for American companies and workers ... (and) a cleaner and safer America for future generations.”

Rep. Annie Kuster deserves credit for her leadership in recently joining this group, both for the bipartisan spirit it represents and for its willingness to oppose the shortsighted, go-it-alone and anti-scientific actions of the Trump administration.

Bob Schultz


An Uplifting Alternative

Thank you to Bill Nichols for his uplifting April 29 column, “NGOs Offer Another Way Forward.”

Among all of the coverage of the current White House administration’s self-aggrandizing, duplicitous efforts to use our government to enrich themselves, it is refreshing to read about citizens of this country who view the rest of the world as fellow human beings rather than enemies, competitors and criminals.

The spirit exemplified by groups such as Artists for Soup is what has made this country as great as it has been. The current narrative out of the White House is doing just the opposite, and will only serve to weaken our country and potentially cause harm to the world. 

Phil Robertson


Keeping the Upper Valley Informed

Kudos to the Valley News for bringing the effects of national issues and policies home to the Upper Valley. Three recent articles have shown us the local program impacts of federal funding for the arts (“Cuts to the Culture,” by Nicola Smith), and two articles by Matt Hongoltz-Hetling showed the necessary work done by undocumented immigrants on our farms and in our medical care systems.

Connecting the debates we watch in Washington to our own Upper Valley people, culture and businesses makes us all more informed. Keep it up!

Midge Eliassen


Why Trump’s Taxes Matter

The Forum recently published a letter that raised the issue of Donald Trump’s tax returns in which the writer asked if liberals expected to find in those returns proof that the Russian government attempted to sway our presidential election in favor of Trump.

The question seems rhetorical — intended to make an impression rather than to elicit a reply — yet a reply seems in order.

For this liberal, the answer is no. However, I would expect to find a pattern in Trump’s tax returns showing that he borrows heavily, defaults on debt and settles lawsuits without acknowledging wrongdoing regularly, has a lot of money passing through his businesses and pays little in taxes.

Of course, that’s speculation. But it’s speculation based on many years of news reports from established, credentialed news organizations made up of highly-regarded reporters, editors and publishers who’ve risen to the top of the journalism field through accuracy, integrity and consistency and have the respect of their peers and their audiences.

Even if Donald Trump had a reputation for honesty, for accuracy, for integrity, for consistency; even if he had the respect of his peers — the five living former presidents, say — as a United States government official with influence over the security, health, finances, social norms and natural environment of our nation, he should very obviously conform to what is unarguably best practice in this matter, which is transparency.

Good ideas don’t need false premises. For the president of the United States to conceal his tax returns is not a good idea, and there is neither a good argument for him to do so nor for we the people to allow it.

Chris Weinmann