Folks elsewhere in the state may not know that Little Compton sends its high school students all the way through Tiverton to Portsmouth High School. Why? Because it’s generally understood to outperform the high school that they bus right past. Some Tiverton private school families move to Portsmouth when their children hit high school or pay the tuition.
Now, according to the Providence Journal’s Linda Borg, Little Compton is looking to market its K-8 school to area families as a school choice option in its own right:
… By pricing tuition at $6,000 — less than the typical parochial school — the district hopes to attract students from neighboring Portsmouth, Tiverton, Middletown and Westport, Mass. …
“If I’m sitting in Portsmouth or Tiverton, I’m going to say, ’I can get my kid into a class where the student-teacher ratio is 14 to 1, where the school has music, choir, band, athletics, where we go on field trips to New York and Washington, D.C.,” said Supt. Robert B. Powers.
With Rhode Island families generally on a decline, we may see more and more public school districts looking for similar opportunities. As that happens, Little Compton’s approach may raise questions at the Dept. of Education. Can the state allow particular schools the flexibility to price their tuition under the assumptions that it will have a cutoff before they have to start thinking about hiring new teachers and “have a conversation” if any higher-cost special needs students apply?
These questions will start becoming thorny pretty quickly. What happens to Tiverton, for example, if Little Compton starts filling out its excess capacity with low-cost Tiverton students for K-8 and Portsmouth tries the same for high school? For that matter, what happens to private schools as the government’s subsidized competition expands beyond just charter schools to include all public schools, too?
Little Compton’s proposal may be an early indication that change is coming to education whether established players like it or not. Given the degree to which government already distorts the education market, edging into it on a case-by-case basis will prove extremely disruptive. Better to implement a well-considered, all-encompassing school choice program.