By Rob Roper
Act 46, the mandatory school district consolidation bill passed in 2015, was sold with the promise that it would lower the cost public education in Vermont. It has not lived up to that promise (get ready for a massive property tax increase) with one very interesting exception: The Northeast Kingdom School Choice District.
One key provision of Act 46 was that “unlike” school districts (those that offer school choice through tuitioning versus those that don’t) could not be forced to merge. As such, a collection of ten alike K-12 tuitioning towns in the Kingdom merged into a mega school choice district. And, according to the Caledonian-Record:
Superintendent Karen Conroy, who serves the Essex North Supervisory Union and the NEK School Choice District, said on Monday, “We had a large surplus with the estimates high on tuition from last year that is being used to offset our expenditures. With a better handle on the tuition rate increases and our enrollments, we proposed a budget decrease of $436,098 and with the surplus from the prior year of $696,090 our education spending request from the state has decreased by $1,119,300.”
Conroy said, “Based on our current tuition rates, the average costs to educate a student in an independent school is $15,700.75 per pupil and the average costs for a public school enrollment is $16,330.08.”
As a result, of the ten towns in the district six will see decreases in their property tax bill. This at a time when the rest of the state is looking at an average increase in the 4 to 6 percent range. Burlington is looking at a 7.4 percent property tax increase.
So, in conclusion, not only does school choice produce high quality schools such as St. Johnsbury Academy, Thaddeus Stephens School, and The Riverside School, but it is cheaper to educate children in these schools than it is in traditional public schools. And, overall, administering a school choice system is considerably more efficient than administering a traditional public system.
Something to think about when you get open your next property tax bill.
— Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute