Discrimination Against Students Who Aren’t in the System

Thursday afternoon, January 26, representatives of various organizations and private schools will gather at the Rhode Island State House to support increased school choice for families in the Ocean State.  Perhaps the greatest hurdle they will have to overcome is the pervasive sense that our education-related taxes are not actually collected for the purpose of ensuring that our children are well educated, but rather for maintaining government-branded schools.

This distinction became clear at the January 24 meeting of the Tiverton School Committee, which introduced a new policy explicitly denying home-schooled students the opportunity to take classes — particularly technical and vocational classes — outside of the district through arrangements that Tiverton has made.  Students enrolled in Tiverton schools can take such classes, even attending alternative schools full time at no cost to their families.

School Committee Member Deborah Pallasch sees the issue as “two sides of a coin.”  Students who accept all of the requirements of the school department can receive the benefit of this limited inter-district school choice.  Chairwoman Sally Black added that “we offer things that you can’t get outside, and I think that’s wonderful, and we want to continue to do that.”

Again, the school committee clearly believes that the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars that Tiverton and Rhode Island taxpayers pay for local government schools are not to fund a crucial service for all of our children, but rather, to prop up an organization that the politicians (and labor unions) can control.

Home-schooled children are particularly vulnerable to this distinction.  Per Rhode Island law, they aren’t technically attending school at home but, rather, are receiving “at-home instruction,” with a “course… approved by the school committee.”  If Ms. Pallasch believes the requirements placed on public-school students are that important, she should be requiring them of those instructed at home, as well.

The real issue, one suspects, is resources.  Budgets are always a concern, of course, but school committee policies have to be fair.  According to Superintendent William Rearick, thirteen Tiverton students currently attend the Newport Area Career and Technical Center at Rogers High School full time, at a cost of $14,000 each, totaling $182,000 per year.  A home-schooling family that wants to avail itself of one or two classes at Rogers would cost the district only $7,000.

Yes, Tiverton receives school aid from the state for students enrolled in the district, and not for those taught at home, but that amounts to only around $3,430 per student. Tiverton taxpayers are therefore paying the other $10,570 to send students to Rogers, which is well above the assistance that home-schooling families would receive.

The education officials in Tiverton have already decided that it is the responsibility of taxpayers to cover the tuition of students who want courses of education that they can’t get within the district.  They are just applying that policy in a discriminatory way.  No matter how much you may pay in taxes or contribute to the town in some other way, unless you put your children under their complete control, you are part of “the home-school community,” which is apparently separate from simply “the community.”

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Justin KatzJustin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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