A Story of Rural Choice

We have shared research and stories on how school choice can transform an urban neighborhood. Take our blog posts on Paris or Edgewood, for example. However, this type of change doesn’t only occur in urban areas when there is choice. If people are leaving a community due to poor educational options ANYWHERE, giving them more options will encourage them to stay, even in rural communities. East Haven, Vermont is a great example. Though the population numbers are small, giving families options ultimately helped turned the economic situation of the town around.

In 2011, East Haven school enrollment was down to fewer than a dozen students when voters decided to close the public school and become a school choice town. After years of school enrollment decline, the school-age population began to rise just a year after the town voted to switch to a choice town. Two years later, Donna Loynd, school board chair, described board meetings as places “where there once were no residents attending... and at last week's meeting there were not enough chairs.” Describing her town when interviewed, she exclaimed, “People are moving in, and they’re moving because we have school choice.”

Since 2011, families with young children have chosen to stay in East Haven, and a number of young families have moved in too. They have bought and renovated homes, many of which were built during the mid-20th century for the abandoned base.

Town resident and former board member Kelly Deth described the community changes in this way,

In my opinion, for so long East Haven was not viewed as a desired town, in part due to geographical location and in part due to the internal town turmoil. With the school choice option and Burke (ski resort) developing as it has, things are looking very different for our small town. It is great to see the neighborhood fill up with children and give new life to an aging town population.

In a place lacking hope, losing economic stability, and behind in quality education, school choice became a way to keep young people in their rural community. The absolute number of children is not very big, due to the small size of the town, but in the last six years, the number of school children in East Haven has more than tripled! East Haven residents are happy with their school choice, and their words certainly speak volumes. Of course actions speak even louder than words, and East Haven is telling us something that we need to hear.

To learn more about East Haven, read here, and consider how school choice might impact your town or city.