How Regionalization Could Hurt School Choice

There is a lot of talk about regionalization in Rhode Island. Some taxpayer advocates think it will save money by reducing the number of superintendents and administrative staff. However, we think it’s important to draw a distinction between regionalization and consolidation: the former creates a new governmental bureaucracy that is unaccountable to voters, while the latter saves money by consolidating services without infringing upon local control. The perils of regionalization are well illustrated in Vermont. The president of the Ethan Allen Institute, the Vermont counterpart to OSPRI, recently testified before the state Senate about how regionalization could affect school choice. Below are some highlights:

Why are we reorganizing into a small number of districts? The Commissioner’s Transformation Policy Commission, which strongly recommends this, does not claim that it will save any money. It will make life simpler for superintendents – that’s a plus (for them).

It will supposedly result in greater learning opportunities for pupils within the regional districts. (This was the argument of Commissioner Scribner’s 1970 Vermont Design for Education, which failed.) Pupils could enjoy public school choice within the regional districts. The teachers union has no problem with this since all public schools are staffed by dues paying union members.

But what about pupils in the 90 tuition towns where pupils have for 140 years had genuine choice of public and approved independent schools? …

The most likely effect of regionalizing districts will be to terminate parental choice for thousands of pupils who benefit from it.

The Commissioner says that parental choice for the four independent academies would continue to be allowed (within their four regions only) – but not the other approved non-religious independent schools. Indeed, he is clearly uncomfortable with the smaller independent schools and wants them to achieve (costly) NEASC accreditation before they can accept tuition pupils.

Click here to read the full version. Also, it looks like Maine has dealt with the same issue. Click here to read more about that.

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