Op-Ed: Resources too tight to expand dual enrollment to private schools

By Rep. Kate Webb

Last month, the Senate passed a bill to expand the “Dual Enrollment Program” to students enrolled in private schools. Dual enrollment currently allows Vermont high school juniors and seniors to take up to two college courses paid through a state-funded voucher system. Courses may be taken on a college or high school campus. Dual Enrollment is a public school program, not open to students who have elected to attend private schools.

Last week, the House Education Committee on which I serve removed this private school expansion from the bill. As I supported this removal and have heard from numerous parents and students, I will take this opportunity to respond.

For background, the Flexible Pathways Program allowing dual enrollment began in 2013 in an effort to broaden and increase the number of students seeking education beyond high school. At that time, Vermont graduation rates were high, but post-secondary pursuits low compared to other New England states. Designed with those in mind who had never considered college an option, dual enrollment would also help those students in small rural schools without AP courses access advanced coursework.

Each year, more and more students are participating. While we celebrate increased participation, funding has not kept pace, leaving the program over budget.

In addition, a recent report indicated that these options are not reaching the students for whom the law was most intended. These are typically students who would be the first in their families to go to college as well as students in rural areas who do not have a college or university nearby.

With a possible significant change in education funding (H.911) still under debate in the Senate, not only is it difficult to find extra dollars, it is unclear whether the dual enrollment program will be funded from different sources. This needs to be worked out before we can proceed. H.911 also has elements that may trigger a veto.

With this in mind, it is doubtful dual enrollment will open to private school students this year.

If taken up again, several concerns will need to be resolved. Here are a few:

If the program opens to more students who are already college-bound (private schools are typically college-prep), do we need to reconsider the purpose of the program?

Increased usage means increased costs. Do we increase the funding or use current dollars differently?

If we increase the funding, do we raid another program? Add a new tax? On what or whom?

If we are not able to find new funds, how do we divide up current dollars? Restrict to one course not two? First-come first-serve? Lottery? Require “means testing” to restrict only to those below a certain household income?

This will take more time to review and likely pit various interests against each other, all of which need to be heard and then reconciled.

I see public education as a primary underpinning of our democracy. How we fund this is a complicated matter with many factions weighing in on what is “fair.” No small task that.

Rep. Kate Webb, a Democrat, represents Shelburne in the Vermont House of Representatives.

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