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Private Schools: Contributers to the Common Good

04/17/02 12:00AM By Libby Sternberg

(Host) Commentator Libby Sternberg reflects on private schools and their place in the community.

(Sternberg) Are public schools the only institutions which can be labeled "the foundation of our democracy?" Do they alone hold claim to the title "center of our communities?" I would argue that ALL schools, not just public ones, help promote our shared democratic values and can be considered centers of our communities, along with many other institutions.

Recently, the Vermont Independent Schools Association, and Vermonters for Better Education, an organization which I lead, conducted a survey of private schools in the state. Not surprisingly, our survey found that Vermont's private schools are diverse institutions with a commitment to access and to community.

Tuitions, for example, at private schools are on average lower than the average per pupil cost for public schools in the state. The average private school tuition in the survey was $6,000. If high-cost special-needs schools are left out of the equation, the average private school tuition is under $5,000. Nearly one-third of the schools reported that 30% or more of their students receive some scholarship aid. Two-thirds of the schools report some percentage of their students receive scholarship aid. The low tuitions and high percentages of scholarship students illustrate that private schools have a commitment to access.

Nearly 10% of all Vermont students are educated in private schools. Private school enrollment has trended upward over the past three years while total student enrollments in the state have declined.

More than 1,600 people work in private schools in the state. If private schools were grouped together as one "industry," they'd rank among the top ten employers in Vermont. Private school budgets total nearly $60,000,000 - money that flows back into their communities through the purchase of goods and services, and payment of salaries.

Vermont private school alumni include such notable people as Calvin Coolidge, Senator Patrick Leahy, former Lieutenant Governor John Daley, as well as authors, champion skiers, teachers, ministers, doctors, dentists and more.

Nearly all the schools sponsor community programs which include such activities as community service days or "terms," food drives, singing at rest homes, gifts to children whose parents are in jail, helping at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, and allowing community groups to use private school facilities.

The study confirms what most people already know. Private schools, like their sister public school institutions, contribute to the common good of Vermont.

This is Libby Sternberg from Rutland.

Libby Sternberg is a freelance writer, former Chair of the Rutland County Republican Party, and is active in education issues.

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