To the editor of THE EAGLE:
Many towns and school districts are experiencing financial difficulties and school choice is often where the finger is pointed for substantial savings. The formula for this savings is usually something like this: it costs $15,000 to educate a student, yet a "choice" student only brings in $5,000, therefore the "choice" student costs the district $10,000. Some have said that school choice costs the Berkshire Hills Regional School District $2 million a year. The math for school choice is not so simple.
The reality is that elementary and middle schools carefully manage how many students they bring in so that school choice actually creates income for the district. It works like this: you have, a third grade with 47 students, two classes of 20 and one class of 13. School choice adds seven students at no extra cost to the district because the cost of educating 13 students vs. 20 is the same -- no new teachers and no building expenses, yet those 13 students generated $65,000 for the district.
Another factor that makes the simple math not so simple is that districts send students out as well as take them in. For every student you send out vs. every student you take in, it is a wash. No money gained, no money lost. Even in BHRSD where more students are taken in than are sent out there is, on average, 100 students sent out every year, thus canceling out the first 100 students they take in. The simple math doesn't consider the students that are sent out.
School choice allows students and families to make choices that fit their needs and interests. Our community is full of excellent schools, yet these schools can't always provide high quality programs for every type of student, particularly at the high school level. School choice gives our students opportunities that ultimately make them more engaged, motivated students.
School choice is not a cash cow to solve tax fatigue. It does have problems and inequities, yet it has tremendous value to our students, families and community. I implore that when school committees, Selectmen and communities address tax fatigue, they look closely and understand the actual expenses as well as the educational value of school choice.