Pat McDonald and Ben Kinsley are co-hosts of the show “Vote for Vermont.” On a recent show the tables were turned a little when Pat interviewed Ben in his capacity of Executive Director for Campaign for Vermont Prosperity (CFV). The topic for the show was a discussion of an innovative plan proposed by CFV which focuses on the re-energizing of Vermont’s public education system.
Ben began the discussion by noting that Vermont’s K-12 public education system is under stress. Student population has decreased by nearly 20,000 over the past two decades, property taxes are steadily rising, and school districts are struggling to comply with a consolidation mandate intended to shed excess overhead costs. He commented that many believe we have excess administrative overhead within our education system and that schools must reduce the current level of overhead in order to match our level of student enrollment. This belief led to the passage of Acts 153, 156, and 46 which have attempted to reduce the administrative overhead of our school systems. Acts 153 and 156 had scant participation from local school districts (only two mergers). Even Act 46, which is a “mandatory” consolidation effort, has prompted action in less than half of school districts so far.
Ben explained that Campaign for Vermont started asking the question, “Are we thinking about this in the wrong way?” Maybe instead of looking at this challenge as excess overhead, we should think about it as excess capacity. “We have seen a student drop of 20% with no similar reduction in school staffing. Which means, theoretically, that we could serve 20,000 more students than we currently do,” he said.
Ben explain that CFV started looking at the possibility of public schools accepting international students. Here in Vermont, many independent schools have far more applications than they could possibly accept from Central Asia. This is nothing new for private schools around the country. The real innovation is that public schools are now beginning to accept international students in similar fashion. Some of these schools are even here in Vermont.
Ben said that CFV believes that an infusion of international students would diversify our student populations, introduce new revenue, and create more educational opportunities for our Vermont students. And CFV has estimated that this initiatives could generate $350 Million in taxpayer savings (about $550 per person).
Ben explained that the infrastructure to implement such a plan is already in place; a number of non-profit organizations already recruit students internationally, and the F-01 Visa program is widely used to tuition students to the United States. Implementing a program like this at a statewide level could leverage recruiting and placement in a way that has not yet been done elsewhere. Filling just half of our excess capacity could bring $350 million into the state, rivaling the ski industry for direct economic impact.
Vermont schools already rank well compared to other states and indeed other countries which would be a useful selling point in attracting international students. Excess capacity in Vermont’s rural schools could easily be met with the rapidly growing demand for access to American educational systems around the globe. Public education systems are just beginning to catch on to international education and Vermont can be on the leading edge of this wave. All of this comes at a time when our K-12 public education system is in dire need of innovation. This could be the spark needed to move us forward.
Ben strongly believes that this approach could make Vermont an education destination and revolutionize our Pre-K through 12 education system. The next logical move for these students after going through Vermont’s undergraduate system could very well be to move up to our higher education system.
Note: The comments reflected in this article are opinions stated by our guests. Any rebuttals are welcome and can be expressed on the websites and facebook pages of VFV and CFV. If you would like to see the show please go to vote802.com for a complete listing of Vote for Vermont shows or our YouTube channel.