To the Editor:
The Wilton Board of Education is being presented with a decision on whether or not to participate in the CT State Open Choice program. This initial decision to participate is where the choice ends, as the program is neither ‘open’ nor a ‘choice.’
Sadly, the program fails in the promise of true school choice. The program is open to all kinds of students; however, racial and ethnic elements are a limiting factor to students, as well as a lottery administered by faceless bureaucrats with the Regional Education Service. Neither the students nor Wilton have any say in who goes where.
The program is not cost-neutral. The money does not follow the child. The sending district keeps half of its ECS grant for each child enrolled in the program. With regard to special needs children, a portion of extra costs is paid by the receiving district (Wilton). The responsibility for holding planning and placement team (PPT) meetings and developing an IEP also belongs to the receiving district (Wilton).
Proponents misleadingly argue students are using “open seats.” As a high-performing school, there is no reason why Wilton needs to keep a seat open or meet a minimum budget. The School Board’s job is to optimize the spend and maximize the education value. Why keep excess open seats? This is a net cost to our district. Westport, for example, receives 67 children. Westport only received $194,159 last year from the state or $2,897 per student. Westport has a per-pupil cost of $22,248, thus the 67 students cost Westport $1,296,517 in 2020 — this does not even include IEP or PPT costs.
Further, Wilton is in the midst of a demographic shift as families flee the cities and new apartment buildings are proposed. Once enrolled, students will attend school in the receiving Open Choice district (Wilton) until high school graduation. That means a decade-plus commitment for kindergartners and younger students. In the future, in order to accommodate a change in Wilton’s own children, the district would need to add net new seats with all the costs and infrastructure requirements entailed.
Alternatively, perhaps the Board should reconsider the financial inequity created by the BOE’s 2013 controversial “pay to play” policy. This policy allows the children of parents, who can afford to pay to participate and try or investigate interests in more extracurricular sports and clubs. Other Wilton children who cannot afford to pay are denied this opportunity to grow, learn and experience. I remind the Board of Education of its duty to the district’s students today and more than a decade in the future to offer the best education while remaining good stewards of the town’s resources and urge them to vote ‘no’ on “Open Choice.”
Wilton has a wonderful history of accepting sponsored children outside the district, and a true School Choice program would be a welcome opportunity for both Wilton and surrounding area students. However, the Open Choice program is a Trojan horse full of cost and places the decision authority of who and for how long a student attends, in the hands of a regional body — abdicating local control is not what the Board of Education is elected to do.