House Votes To Repeal Law Aimed At Education Spending

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(Host) The House has voted to repeal a controversial law that was designed to control local education costs.

The people behind the repeal effort argued that the law has been unfair to low and moderate spending school districts, and has favored more affluent towns.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The so called "two vote budget" bill was passed in the final days of the 2007 session and represented a compromise between Republican Governor Jim Douglas and Democratic leaders.

The law applies only to those towns where school budgets grow faster than the rate of inflation plus one percent. If this happens, then the budget has to be presented to local voters in two parts. 

The first part represents spending below the threshold, the second part represents spending above the cap. The law was due to expire in 2014 and this bill pushes that timetable up by two years.

Fairfax Rep. Gary Gilbert said the law hasn’t affected very many towns. He says in 2009, 10 towns fell under the provisions of the law and last year there was only 1.

Gilbert said the law has been unfair for several reasons. He argued that higher spending towns have been able to raise more money than lower spending towns, within the parameters of the law, because their base budget level is considerably larger.

(Gilbert) "Thus this provision had created an uneven playing field which inhibited moderate spending districts and had little effect on the highest spending districts."

(Kinzel) Gilbert said some wealthier towns also have the ability to keep their budgets under the cap by paying for some programs through independent fundraising.

(Gilbert) "This gave advantages to larger student districts or to more affluent districts or those who had individuals dedicated to locate these sources – what we might call grant writers. On the other hand there’s nothing to protect a district that received reduced Medicare reimbursements or reductions in federal grants."

(Kinzel) And Gilbert said it was never clear to voters which programs would be cut if their town fell under the two vote mandate.

(Gilbert) "The voters would be disenfranchised as they would not be able to tell which programs would be affected by a failure to pass part two of the provision."

(Kinzel) No one spoke against the bill on the House floor although this could change when the measure comes up for final approval on Friday.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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