Vermont Gov. Dean Wins Chutzpah Award. Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is planning to run for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. His as-yet-unannounced candidacy brought him to Albany, New York, last week to make a speech before a meeting of the New York State United Teachers. Following the playbook to the letter, Gov. Dean decided that a few words bashing school vouchers couldn’t hurt with such an audience, and so he delivered his judgment that vouchers were “harebrained ideas.”
If Dean had stopped there, his remarks would hardly be noteworthy. But he continued. “Here’s what a voucher system does,” he said. “It puts the white folks here, the black folks there, the Hispanics there, the Jews over here, the Catholics there, the Protestants there, the rich people here, the poor people there and the last people left behind are the special ed kids because nobody wants them. We can’t live in a society like that. This country is better than that.”
But as Lee Bockhorn noted on The Weekly Standard’s Internet site, Vermont has had a proto-voucher program in place since 1869, and Dean and his Vermonters seem to be living just fine. What’s more objectionable about Dean’s remarks is his contention that vouchers segregate populations — this coming from the Governor of Vermont, the state with the whitest student body in the entire United States.
Divided by race? In 1998, the average U.S. public school was 63 percent white, 17 percent African American, 15 percent Hispanic and 5 percent all other races and ethnicities. Vermont public schools were 97 percent white, 1 percent African American, 0.5 percent Hispanic and 1.5 percent all other races and ethnicities. To give you an even clearer picture, in October 2001 there were exactly 47 African American 12th-graders attending public school in the entire state of Vermont.
Why don’t more minorities move to Vermont? Perhaps it’s the average state tax burden of 9.0 percent of personal income, third highest in the nation.
Divided by religion? Vermont is very diverse in religion… if you’re a Christian. The state’s population is about 58 percent Protestant of various denominations and about 25 percent Catholic. Another 12.6 percent are atheists, agnostics or otherwise non-religious. If you add together all the Unitarians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, the odd animist or Wiccan, and people who don’t care to disclose their religious preferences, it comes to 4.4 percent of the state’s population.
Divided by income? Despite strenuous legislative efforts to equalize education funding in the state, per-pupil spending in Vermont’s counties ranged from $7,578 to $11,914. At the district level the disparity was even starker: from $5,704 to $13,589.
Divided by disability? During the 1998-99 school year, 13 percent of U.S. students were in special education programs. In Vermont, the total was 12.1 percent, tied for 13th lowest in the nation.
If Gov. Dean wants to quiet the support for vouchers, he has the unique means to do so. Public school enrollment in Vermont was down 2.4 percent in 1999-2000, the second biggest drop in the nation (behind Wyoming). The average Vermont public school has 223 students — fewer than half the students of the average U.S. public school. If we “can’t live in a society” where children are segregated by these measures, why didn’t he invite students from those overcrowded New York State schools to move to Vermont and add some diversity to the overwhelming middle-class white Christianity of his state’s public schools?