Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Education > Mi escuela es su escuela

Mi escuela es su escuela

There are humanitarian reasons for Gov. Peter Shumlin to answer President Obama’s call for help with the Central American refugees who have flocked to the U.S. in recent months. But taking in school-age children, especially on a long-term basis, also could help him with one of the perceived problems with Vermont’s education system.

Our schools have room for thousands more students throughout the state. We could try to fill them by welcoming these children into our state and into our schools. It wouldn’t reduce our overall education cost, but it would lower per-pupil spending, which some see as the test of affordability.

Regardless of what happens with these particular children, Montpelier really needs to start seeing the state’s excess school capacity as an asset rather than a liability. Vermont’s school enrollment has been declining for more than a decade, and evidently most political leaders assume it’s an irreversible trend. Their only answer to rising per-pupil costs seems to be to cut spending by consolidating or closing schools.

But another way to reduce the per-pupil cost is to increase the number of students. Vermont’s overall education costs have been remarkably steady. As a percentage of all state and local government revenue, education spending essentially has been flat for 20 years. In 1992, it was 37 percent of state and local revenue; in 2012, it was 36 percent. Per-pupil spending has risen largely because the number of students has dropped. We could turn that around with an influx of young families.

Vermont does put a lot of resources into its public school system and gets better results than most other states. The state consistently ranks in the top 10 in student performance, and for the past couple of years we’ve had one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country. Rather than plan for downsizing our public school system, we should look for ways to market our excess capacity and high quality to young families around the country and around the world.

The children from Central America could be a start. And it’s not only school-age children we need, but also more young adults. Rather than simply house these refugess from Guatemala and Honduras until they can be deported, maybe the governor could find a way to help their families settle here to start to rebuild Vermont’s labor force. Who knows? One of these kids might create the next Cherry Garcia or Heady Topper when she grows up.

Posted by Jack Hoffman on July 22, 2014 at 12:36 pm

2 Responses to “Mi escuela es su escuela”

  1. Mark Donka says:

    Bring the illegal children to VT will not decrease the cost per pupil. Most of these children do not speak English and many do not speak Spanish but speak several different Mayan dialects. So now we will need to hire more teachers/translators to deal with the language barrier. We (Vermonters) are being taxed to death now why would we put more of a strain on the education system?

  2. Mike Yantachka says:

    Children learn new languages pretty quickly. The younger they are, the quicker. When we moved to Germany for a year on assignment, my 6 year old daughter went to the local elementary school. For three months she remained fairly quiet and communicated very hesitantly with her teacher. Then, all of a sudden, she started speaking German. Granted, we were giving her German lessons at the same time, but we were amazed at how quickly she caught on. She was a big help in translating for us in several instances that year. I’m sure these kids would do just as well with proper attention. BTW, they all speak Spanish regardless of the Central American country they are coming from. They aren’t from some isolated tribe that speaks only “Mayan”. That assertion is a red-herring if I ever heard one, Mark.