(Host) Vermont’s education funding system got high marks in a new legislative report for reaching its goal of providing equal educational opportunity for all Vermont students.
But a new report, commissioned by two southern Vermont resort towns, claims the funding model leads to fewer opportunities for students in smaller schools.
VPR’s Susan Keese has the story.
(Keese) The education finance laws Acts 60 and 68 were a response to a state Supreme Court ruling 15 years ago. The court said Vermont must do a better job giving students in lower-income towns some of the opportunities enjoyed by students in wealthy towns.
The study done for the legislature says the laws have done that. Education consultant Lawrence Picus, the report’s author, says Vermont has created "an equitable system" with relatively little difference in per-pupil spending from school to school.
But Dover School Board member Laura Sibilia worries that the study, as designed, left out some important questions.
(Sibilia) "There’s really not a measure of what is being purchased with those equitable dollars from that equitable tax rate."
(Keese) Sibilia says the study also failed to consider the laws’ economic impact on property-rich towns that send more money to the state education tax fund.
So the towns of Dover and Wilmington commissioned their own study. The report, by Northern Economic Consulting of Westford, is being released this week.
Sibilia says it demonstrates that students in bigger schools get more.
(Sibilia) "What it shows to us is, while the state has been successful in equalizing the tax rates and equalizing the amount spent per pupil, that hasn’t really resulted in equal opportunity per student. There are really vast differences."
(Keese) The study compared the number of core course offerings, fine arts classes, sports and activities in high schools across the state.
Economist Art Woolf co-authored the report.
(Woolf) "And that’s what we found out, that the larger school is able to offer a more diverse set of courses, and they have more sports. There’s a definite relationship between the size. So we’re trying to equalize the spending. But that doesn’t mean at all that the students have access to the same opportunities in the school."
(Keese) The new report and the study sponsored by the legislature agree that larger schools DON’T necessarily save money.
They both recommend against wholesale consolidation of smalls schools into larger ones.
The southern Vermont towns say they hope the Legislature will read the report and consider different standards for measuring equal education.
For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.
(Host) Most lawmakers haven’t yet had a look at the Northern Economics report commissioned by Dover and Wilmington.
But House Ways and Means Chairwoman Janet Ancel says the court ruling that led to Act 60 and 68 didn’t talk about educational content.
(Ancel) "They didn’t say substantially equal education. They said equal resources and that was interpreted to mean money. And what Picus said is that Act 60 and Act 68 are meeting that goal. That kids are able to access substantially equal educational resources. Now what we have to ask is, what are schools doing with those resources?"
(Host) Representative Ancel, who’s seen the Dover report briefly, says the two studies seem to complement each other in some respects, although there are points on which they disagree.
Backers of the Dover report say it points to a need to rethink the education financing system.