School Financing Law Gets Good Grades

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(Host) A long awaited report on school financing in Vermont concludes that the current system has been effective in providing equal educational opportunities for students throughout the state.

And, as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, both supporters and opponents of Act 68 found something to praise about the report.

(Kinzel) It’s been 15 years since the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state’s system of funding education was unconstitutional because it didn’t provide equal educational opportunity for all students. So last spring, lawmakers commissioned a report to see if recent financing plans, known as Act 60 and Act 68, have met the goals of the Court decision.

Lawrence Picus is a professor at the University of Southern California and the chief author of the report.

(Picus) "Our overall finding is that the system is working very well within the context of the goals that are established."

(Kinzel) Picus found that Vermont has one the lowest student teacher ratios in the country and one of the highest per pupil spending rates largely because the state has so many small schools. He also says the state has achieved school financing equity.

(Picus) "There’s very very little relationship between the property wealth or the income of a town and the amount of money that that town chooses to spend. In many states you find that property wealthy school districts spend more than low wealth districts you’ve very much undone that."

(Kinzel) According to the report, Vermont student performance ranks among the highest in the country, although when compared to the other New England states, these test scores are about average.  Picus also found little relationship between schools that had the largest performance gains and their per student spending rates.

Janet Ancel is the chairwoman of the House Ways and Means committee. She says the report is good news.

(Ancel) "I think it tells us that we’re on the right track, that we don’t need a major overhaul of the system but there are probably some things that we can do that we improve education for our kids."

(Kinzel) And Ancel hopes the report will change the debate over education at the Statehouse.

(Ancel) "I hope that it positions us to maybe stop some of the should we do Act 60 at all kinds of debate that we’ve been having…and focuses instead on how we use the resources we have most effectively for kids."

(Kinzel) Jamaica Rep. Oliver Olsen is a strong critic of the current funding system. He was pleased that the report didn’t find a clear link between spending levels and overall student performance.

(Olsen) "In these economic times, we just simply cannot afford to continue to support…the rate of growth of spending that we’ve seen when we have year over year declining student enrollment."

(Kinzel) Professor Picus also says that efforts to consolidate school districts in Vermont are unlikely to save taxpayers very much money in the long term and could reduce community involvement in education system.

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



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