Proto Vouchers

February 20, 2014

Good news from St. Johnsbury Academy. The school just proudly reported that Academy math students earned the highest cumulative score in the annual New England Mathematics League Contest.

Few know that Coolidge actually attended St. Johnsbury, if only for a few weeks. The future president was there for a short prep course that helped him to gain admission to the college of his choice, Amherst College in Massachusetts.

St. Johnsbury Academy is known in education policy circles for a different reason today. With the arrival of compulsory public high school and regular public schools a century ago, a few states and towns resisted. As John McClaughry reminds us, a sprinkling of New England towns made the economical choice of paying their high school fees directly to extant local academies. That spared the town the cost of building a new school.

To this day town leaders in St. Johnsbury, or Kirby, or Dover-Foxcroft and Fryeburg in Maine, pay tuition for individual pupils to their academies. Families from St. Johnsbury who want to send their children to school out of town may claim some tuition money from the town and do so. Families from other towns however may choose to send money and children to St. Johnsbury. Thus New England features what in modern politics is called a voucher system.

Readers can decide for themselves whether the New England Academies are a curious relic or a model for other regions to emulate.

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