Could consolidation lead to MORE school choice?

Could consolidation lead to MORE school choice?

November 14, 2008 Posted by Steve Bowen - No Comments

MHPC has done quite a bit of work to publicize the fact that school choice in Maine is under threat. Is it possible that school choice could be expanded as a result of consolidation?

The Times Record reports that residents of Wiscasset, which is destined to be the only non-choice district in its new RSU, are thinking about extending school choice to their own students.  The article is tremdously revealing about the motives of the two sides.

On the side favoring choice, you have this argument:

Smith noted that, with school enrollment falling and no sign the other
seven towns would send students or funding to Wiscasset to help combat
the dropoff, the high school could continue to wither away. If the
disappearance in funding and programs reached severe enough levels, he
argued, it would be unfair of the town not to allow its students to
seek better educations elsewhere.

“If we can’t save the high school, isn’t our obligation to the students?” asked Smith.

In other words, for the good of the children, we have to provide the best options available, and if that means closing a school to which kids don’t want to go, then so be it.

The argument on the other side is that for the good of the school, we need to avoid giving kids a choice:

However, School Committee Chairman Gene Stover remained worried that
opening the door of school choice would exacerbate what he described as
the “exodus we’re experiencing from Alna and Westport Island.”

Alna and Westport Island had already been partnered with Wiscasset
before the larger consolidation talks began, but as Smith noted,
“one-third of the Westport Island kids choose schools other than
Wiscasset due to misconceptions about the quality of our schools.”

Allowing Wiscasset’s own students to leave, too, argued Stover, would be a bad idea.

“We’ve got to combat this business of people leaving because of what
they perceive as programs that aren’t as good as other schools.”

I find this line of thinking facsinating. The kids that have choice are voting with their feet and leaving the schools.  They are doing so, Mr. Stover suggests, because of “perceptions” that the schools are not that good.

His solution, evidently, is not to deal with the perception issue (or what may be underlying perfomance issues), but simply to use the law to prevent students from leaving.

It says something about how ingrained the public school monopoly model has become that nobody gets worked up about trapping kids in underperforming schools. “So what if kids want to leave – we won’t make the school better, we’ll just prevent them from leaving.”

Someday we’ll look back at this era and be amazed that people put up put up with this…