VLCT critical of funding for prison education program

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(Host) The Vermont League of Cities and Towns is accusing the Douglas administration of raiding the state’s Education Fund. The administration wants to take $775,000 from the fund to pay for a special education program for inmates. The VLCT argues that it’s wrong to ask property taxpayers to foot the bill for this program.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports

(Kinzel) When lawmakers passed Act 68 several years ago, they put provisions in the bill to make certain that money from the statewide property tax would be used only to support the state’s share of local education expenses. They were mindful of raids on the Transportation Fund over the last two decades to cover shortfalls in the General Fund.

The director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Steve Jeffrey, thinks the governor’s plan to take three quarters of a million dollars from the Education Fund to help finance a special education program for inmates opens the door for future raids on this fund:

(Jeffrey) “We just have the potential of this being many, many millions of dollars five or ten years from now. Every dollar that’s spent for something other than the original intent of Act 60 is a dollar that’s not going to be available to relieve property taxes.”

(Kinzel) Administration Secretary Mike Smith strongly disagrees with the League’s assessment:

(Smith) “If one day you’re on one side of the correctional facility, out in the public, you’re paid by the Education Fund. If the next day you’re inside the facility, you’re paid by the General Fund. And what we’re saying here is, special ed is special ed.”

(Kinzel) The issue will be reviewed as part of the administration’s budget proposal. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Bartlett has a lot of questions about the administration’s plan:

(Bartlett) “Everyone is feeling the property taxes are too high and it was the Senate that put in the language to return excess money to the property owners. I’m supportive of returning as much money as possible to the property owners. So we’ll listen to the arguments but I think the League of Cities and Towns has a very valid question.”

(Kinzel) Bartlett says her committee will look at this issue in the coming weeks.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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