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Lessons from Vermont
132-Year-Old Voucher Program Rebuts Critics
by Libby Sternberg
No. 67
September 10, 2001
drain public schools of revenue. Vermont's long-
For more than a century, Vermont has oper-
standing program has done none of those things.
ated a viable and popular voucher system in 90
Vermont's voucher program has been running
towns across the state. During the 199899
since 1869, nearly as long as the monopolistic
school year, the state paid tuition for 6,505 stu-
public education model. It is worth noting that
dents in kindergarten through 12th grade to
the voucher program has been a welcome part of
attend public and private schools. Families
the educational landscape for so long that the
chose from a large pool of public schools and
state collects no more information on voucher
more than 83 independent schools including
students than it does on students generally. And
such well-known academies as Phillips Exeter
no hue and cry has been raised for more informa-
and Holderness.
tion to be compiled to justify the system's contin-
As more attention is given to vouchers in
uation. To the contrary, Vermonters generally
mainstream discussions about education reform,
assume that it is a parent's prerogative to select a
critics contend that vouchers are a new, untested
child's school, and the burden of proof is on
concept and therefore must be implemented, if at
those who seek to take that choice away. This
all, on an extremely limited, experimental basis.
paper describes Vermont's voucher system and
Critics also argue that vouchers will lead to the
draws numerous lessons for education reformers
establishment of fringe schools, skim the best
and policymakers.
and brightest students from public schools, and
Libby Sternberg is executive director of Vermonters for Better Education in Rutland, Vermont, and a regular contribu-
tor to Vermont Public Radio.