Legislative leaders react to proposal to freeze education spending

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(Host) Reaction to the governor’s proposal to freeze state education spending was swift and emphatic.

Democratic leaders said the proposal would unfairly shift the burden of paying for schools to local property taxpayers.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

The head of the state’s teachers union said the proposal is unconstitutional because it would violate a Vermont Supreme Court decision that calls for equal educational opportunity.

Angelo Dorta is president of the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association

(Dorta) "Even if it lasts for only one year it will be one year of inequitable funding for Vermont students because those communities that have greater property tax wealth will be able to spend above the freeze amount much easier than those schools that are poor in their property tax wealth. And whether we can create a brand new education funding system in one year is open to question."

(Dillon) Senate President Peter Shumlin said the governor’s proposal would shift funding obligations to towns.

As he delivered the Democratic response to the governor’s speech, Shumlin promised to fight the plan.

(Shumlin) "The governor’s fundamental premise is, freeze the block grant and spend as you wish and then that will be billed to your property tax bill in the old-fashioned way. We will not walk away from a system that we’ve worked so hard to achieve that assures that a student in Hardwick has the same educational opportunity to resources as a student in Stratton."

(Dillon) The League of Cities and Towns is also concerned about the potential burden on local communities. Karen Horn represents the League in the Statehouse.

(Horn) "I think it’s going to be very problematic, because there are school districts that have just adopted their budgets and they’re looking at trying to make cuts where they can. And there’s a lot of fixed costs in there that aren’t really up for negotiation."

(Dillon) The governor also proposed increasing funding for higher education, but said he wants a task force to look at consolidating the University of Vermont and state college system. UVM President Daniel Fogel said the additional funds would be welcomed, but it would still leave Vermont’s public colleges with a low level of state support.

(Fogel) "In truth it would have to be the beginning of a course of investment to have us even approach the per pupil average in the nation for investment in public higher education.”

(Dillon) Fogel said it’s too early to say how a merger would work between UVM and the state college system.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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