Portland Press Herald supports school choice?

Portland Press Herald supports school choice?

June 3, 2008 Posted by Steve Bowen - No Comments

An odd and somewhat confusing editorial from our friends at the Portland Press Herald today. The piece is focused around the issue of exclusive tuitioning contracts. Towns without their own high schools, for instance, are required to ensure that their high schoolers get a high school education somewhere. Such towns often allow students a choice of high school to attend, but others enter into “exclusive” contracts with a single school, agreeing to send their students to that school only.
As the editorial points out, the “sending” town benefits from doing this, in that they often negotiate a lower tuition rate in exchange for the contract. There are benefits for the “receiving” school as well, because they have a predictable number of students enrolling and can plan accordingly. The only mention of any benefit to the actual student is that the sending towns can “dovetail” their curriculum with that of the high school.
The success that school choice programs have had both here in Maine and elsewhere would seem to suggest that having a coordinated curriculum is not nearly as important as the level of accountability that comes from allowing families to choose the school their children attend. Is Bangor High School a good school because of a coordinated curriculum, or because John Bapst High School is across town in direct competition with them? Will Morse High School In Bath get better because students in the former Union 47(except for those in Georgetown) are now forced to go there as part of RSU 1? We’ll see.
The paper’s editorial seems to want to separate the choice issue from the contract issue, but they are intertwined because, as I pointed out in our recent report on choice, the presence of a contract has become one of the factors that will determine whether a town gets to keep school choice after it has joined an RSU. The Department of Education is saying that the presence of an “exclusive contract” means a town is NOT a choice community. You therefore cannot discuss choice in the current context without talking about contracts.
Of more interest to me is what appears to be something of an endorsement for school choice within the paper’s editorial. It reads:
If one were to develop a school choice model with improved education as the goal, it likely would look quite different from the model employed by Maine’s smaller communities. It would and should be available to all Maine students. It would have to be designed to work to the benefit of every student, not just those who could afford to commute to school or pay the balance on private school tuition.
Hmmm….”Should be available to all Maine students?” Sounds like the PPH might have some interest in the notion. I hope school choice advocates are paying attention…