(Host) Commentator Libby Sternberg is concerned a program for advanced high school students may not get the support she says is deserves.
(Sternberg) A recent Rutland Herald story told the tale of a Randolph Union High School student who was dreading her senior year because she had finished all her core subjects at the end of grade 11 and she worried about being bored. She didn’t drop out, though. Instead she enrolled in a program at Vermont Technical College aimed at students like her. Run through the college’s Vermont Academy of Science and Technology, (or VAST for short) the program allows students to start college early while they’re finishing high school. The student’s tuition is paid for by a little less than the state block grant for education with the difference being refunded to the state.
It sounds like a win-win situation, doesn’t it? A student who could have been at risk of dropping out stays in school and gets a head start on college while taxpayers no longer have to foot the bill for her full per-pupil cost at the local high school.
And there’s the rub. The VAST program means that some high schools lose students, which means they also lose the per pupil block grant from the state that goes with those students. That potential loss alarms some school administrators and overshadows how successful the program is at fulfilling the mission of public education. They want taxpayers to foot the bill whether the student’s at the high school or not. Some administrators argue that maintaining the status quo – with Johnny and Janey going to the local public school for as long as their money can follow them there – trumps everything else.
The VAST program is not, as its name implies, vast. It only involves a few dozen kids right now and is unlikely to attract scores in the future. It is designed to meet the specific needs of a discrete population, to keep them engaged in school at a time when other distractions can tempt even the brightest minds, especially if they’re bored. But the Vermont School Boards Association is concerned about expanding the program, calling it “presumptuous” to allow money to move from the state education fund to an educational venue other than the local public high school.
Okay, full disclosure here – I head a school choice group and VAST is something of a school choice program. And I also have a kid who is capable of finishing high school early and would like to do so.
That said, I think there are ample objective reasons the VAST program deserves serious consideration and ultimate approval for expansion. But the same folks who oppose allowing kids to attend public schools outside their district object to this option for starting college early – even while saving taxpayers money.
This is Libby Sternberg in Rutland.
Libby Sternberg is an author and freelance writer who’s active in education issues. She spoke from our studio in Manchester.