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White flight from public schools

Brief by Allen Best

Education – April 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

Rivaled only by Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, Vail and the Eagle Valley have a school district with a steadily rising number of students for whom English is a second language.

From the founding of Vail in 1962, many of the resort’s residents didn’t want their kids in the public schools, which were at least 50 percent Hispanic then. From the 1920s through the 1950s, a mine in the area had drawn large numbers of Hispanics from New Mexico and Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

But Vail’s founders wanted higher educational standards, so they created a private school. That school continues to flourish, joined in the last decade by a now lengthy list of church and private schools.

The newest school, a charter elementary school, is planned for Eagle- Vail, a suburban- type neighborhood of 4,000 people located west of Vail, adjacent to Avon. Organizers tell the Vail Daily they were concerned that the neighborhood school, called Meadow Mountain, would close, so they struck out to organize their own school.

But why not send their kids to Avon Elementary School, only a mile or two down the road?

Perhaps because it has upwards of 70 to 80 percent Hispanic students, a demographic which many believe to be the real reason. But the founders of the charter school insist that their new school will also embrace Hispanic children. And because many of the charter- school founders are businessmen, they say they know how to attract Latino immigrants.

The public perception, however, is somewhat different. In fact, white flight is now being publicly talked about.

Racism seems to be less of a motivator than the fear that English- speaking students are being slowed while waiting for their Spanish- speaking fellow students to arrive at the same page. Public schools in the Eagle Valley are nearly 50 percent Hispanic, but the private schools are still very much Anglo- dominated.

The Vail Daily reports a widening gap in test scores between Anglos and Hispanics. The gap in test scores at the third grade between limited- English speakers, mostly Hispanic, and proficient English speakers, mostly Anglo, is 36 percent. By the 10th grade level, it has widened to 61 percent.

A task force of school and other government officials has examined how to make public schools more attractive. A recent discussion delved into Hispanic culture and family values, as well as the correlation between lower incomes and lower scores. The Vail Daily reports no particular conclusions.