Roper: Vermont’s public schools are a hot mess

by Rob Roper

The Vermont Joint Fiscal office released a forty-three page report this month on the state of education financing, but its findings go much deeper than just the money. The system as a whole is broken – costs are rising, scores are falling. Beyond the numbers, members of Vermont’s public school bureaucracy recently described a situation inside the schools where, violence is on the rise, and “teachers are literally scared and administrators are at a loss.”

For a long time, Vermont had a reputation as a top education performer compared to other states, but that is changing. As the JFO report states:

“[W]hile Vermont has traditionally been better than the national average, over time it is moving down [on national test scores] and closer to the national average. These figures are particularly striking when considering the continued increase in education expenditures per pupil in Vermont without a commensurate change in student performance when compared to national trends.” – P.15

Public school apologists in Vermont, both in government and in the media, are quick to blame Covid and the school lockdowns as the culprit (which, lest we forget, the teacher’s unions wholeheartedly supported), but as you can see from this chart that ends in 2019, the decline in outcomes began long before Covid was a gleam in Anthony Fauci’s eye. Covid certainly didn’t help matters as the most recent scores not featured here showed even further drops in performance.

The costs Vermonters have had to bear in order to achieve these declining student outcomes are staggering, as anyone who pays property taxes can attest to. For the 2021-22 school year, the average per pupil spending rate was $23,299 compared to the national average of $14,360 and the New England average of $21,535. Since 2001, Vermont has climbed from the eighth highest per pupil expenditure in the country to the second highest.

The JFO report suggests potential cost drivers include “pupil teacher ratios, costs associated with special education and English Learner (EL) students, efficiency of supervisory union and district organization, system design of PreK programs, prevalence of instructional aides, and number of administrators.” P.17. Vermont has more staff per pupil than any other state.

Additionally, “According to the Digest of Education Statistic, in 2019, Vermont school districts employed approximately 18,700 staff members [to serve about 80,000 students]. If Vermont had the same pupils per staff as the national average, schools would employ approximately 7,700 fewer staff members.” P.21

Clearly all the “reforms” lawmakers have passed to ‘bend the curve’ of education spending and improve student outcomes over the past two decades have been a colossal failure. This list includes Act 60 and its many band aid fixes, Act 62 introducing public school governed “high quality” preschool, Act 46 school district consolidation, and the many policy experiments with things like proficiency based learning.

I would also add the cultural decisions to politicize education and students by injecting divisive political issues surrounding climate, race, gender, guns and electoral politics into curricula in place of a focus on the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s got to be hard to learn and certainly taxing on one’s mental health when your teachers are telling every day that you’ll be inheriting a world that’s going to spontaneously combust in a decade, if you survive the next school shooting, which you shouldn’t because you’re systemically racist, and, oh by the way you’re probably a boy trapped in a girl’s body or vice versa.

But, whatever the reasons, the results are undeniable that the system of educating our children in Vermont is not working – neither for the kids nor the teachers and staff. This is why S.56 – An act relating to child care and early childhood education, which would expand this broken system by a year to include full day preschool for four-year-olds should be absolutely unthinkable.

Libby Bonesteel, Superintendent of the Washington Roxbury school district, described in testimony to the House Education Committee what the public school experience is like today. “Every school system has students who are explosive in ways that we have never seen before…. Teachers are quite literally scared, and administrators are at a loss. People are getting hurt, and rooms are getting trashed…. We currently have one classroom that is covered in plywood because of the amount of damage students have done to the walls. I spend my mornings reshelving books in my elementary school’s library after a child ripped nearly 500 of them off the shelves.”

Sounds like a great environment to drop a four-year-old toddler into, no?

But this is what our lawmakers are about to do.

The way we deliver a safe, effective, quality education to our children needs to be re-thought and restructured. We do not need to pour more money into expanding the current dumpster fire that that is systematically failing too many of students already.

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Categories: Commentary

17 replies »

  1. When the state took away from our local school boards the ability to teach what was necessary, reading, writing and arithmetic, as well the hiring and firing of our teacher’s, test scores have fallen. They decided to group all schools into one so everyone got the same education which hurt smaller towns and ultimately the whole education system. Bureaucrats in our government seem to think bigger is better which has been proven false. I have seen children coming out of high school who cannot even make change without a calculator, cannot write or read cursive, cannot even tell time on a real clock.The bare necessities of life even simple problem solving has been illuminated from schools.. What kind of future are we going to have? This is Shamefull!

  2. 1. Give the school boards back to the parents. Members should be voted in, Fairly,
    2. Institute performance-based evaluations of VT’s teachers, to be done by an independent group with parents of the students to watch for monkey business. If a teacher fails to meet set standards in year one, give a warning that year two becomes a probation year. If things don’t improve then, get rid of them. Allow people who’d love to teach, teach. A Master’s degree doesn’t make you a good teacher.
    3. Fauxvid was an excuse, Let’s stop blaming everything on it. Schools should have never been closed after the initial two weeks proved this was just like the flu. This is on the governor and the VT Agency of Education. And yes, one of liberal god Fauci’s e-mails stated plainly that masks don’t work. Very recently, the New York Times admitted the same.
    4. I firmly believe if VT had more “conservative-leaning” teachers, the behavior level would increase. Kids do what they’re allowed to do. If the liberal teachers don’t put a stop to it on day one, what do you think is going to happen? Put them in time out?
    5. $23000+ per pupil? There are probably colleges you can attend that cost less. But yeah, keep throwing good money after bad. It’s how liberals think.

  3. Mr. Roper is good at outlining issues which need to be addressed, many of which originate in homes with failing parents. Perhaps Mr. Roper would like to apply for a school position. There are many vacancies.

  4. Mr. Roper is good at outlining issues which need constructed action, many of which originate in homes with failing parents. Perhaps Mr. Roper would like to apply for a school job. I hear there are many vacancies.

  5. Sorry taxpayers, but a state needs dumb people who will continue to vote in the tradition voters have been doing in Vermont for the last decade or more.
    If you want them educated – SEND THEM TO PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS!!!

  6. Oh my let’s not be so negative. Surely all of the district equity coordinators can and will fix these problems. And the VPA too. Terrific focus on equity will shape all of this right up. And those “VPA visits” and luxury colllegial overnights at the Woodstock Inn are surely making a major contribution. And the Roland Foundation, oh my. Those annual conferences featuring Robin D’Angelo and company no doubt have planted seeds for major improvements. And the SEA and Mr. French. Such amazing leadership, guts, insight. No doubt things are about to turn around!!!!! Go Vermont education. You can do it!!!!!

  7. Much of the discussion in this arena is about schools and our disappointment with what we getting from these expensive government business. If parents were emancipated from their bondage to these school these disappointments would no longer be a political concern. Parents could be contracting directly with teachers and their organizations. Shouldn’t parents educating/raising their kids be able to choose who they want to teach and what’s to be taught? Don’t parents liberties include educate/raising their kids? We’ve forfeited this responsibility to failed government organizations. Is this what we want?

  8. The number one thing destroying the minds of our children. A totally polluted national system infiltrating us from New Yorkers brought in by the firmerrBurlington mayor. we may simply exercise our right to succeed from the this empirical madness before it all disintegrates and splinters between republican and democrat states. This is not a left or right issue. It is an issue of recapturing what once we’re the best I. The nation. Let’s resurrect our once and future Republic of Vermont.

    • Great idea but how do we get rid of the progressive invasive species? They think we are a Democracy and the current teaching staffs have been educated in the progressive indoctrination centers, once known as colleges and universities. Equity and inclusion are much more important than knowing how to count change, write a sentence or know about your constitution. I wish I could live long enough to see your proposal work. If we could have a rebirth of the 14th star and a return to our independent republic leaving the mess Vermont has become would be a wonderful thing.

      • One things for certain, and that we would never have to deal with the crooked NEA attorneys ever again…

  9. If you want schools fixed, have defined behavior standards for students, reform schools for those who refuse to behave, and write standards into teachers contracts that have to comply with or be fired. Then, exempt everyone over 65 from school taxes. If parents are paying the real costs of having Junior babysat all day, they will pay more attention to what the kid is doing. And get rid of the state board of education. Have an office that only validates teacher credentials, and collects number of how many graduate and can actually do the work. And for good measure, have them track all graduates for 7 years after they get out to see if they are still in Vermont with a job.

  10. I do recall that my grandparents went through one room school house education. They found their way to positions of bank executive, property manager, home makers and other respectable occupations with large happy families to boot.
    Is our current Vermont School system top heavy with more bureaucrats that suck resources to make themselves fat just like the current Vermont government?
    The current superintendent and support staff are “money suck” positions which will continue to grow bigger and take away the needed resources from education.
    If you recall these problems increased with Act 64 which Holcomb advocated.

  11. Act 60 passed in 1997. Supervisory Unions added unelected officials to control the money and insert political bias statewide. The NEA is a political lobbyist firm and has nothing to do with education. All levels of the bureaucracy in the school system (including pensions) are taxpayer funded from the federal, state and local level. Remove half the bureaucrats and political action committees inside the system and stop funding and rewarding failure. Next, remove taxpayer funding from universities and colleges if their curriculum teaches political bias rather than solid, fact based, knowledge and critical thinking skills.

  12. While not generally a Kennedy basher, probably the worse policy action to take place during the JFK administration was to allow for public sector unions. They function primarily as a conduit for public money, via union dues into the coffers of the democrat party. Ronald Reagan knew how to deal with a public sector union but we seem to have lost the ability to rein them in ever since.

  13. Paragraph 9 literally sums it up. Too much time, effort etc put into making social justice warriors than educated, responsible, moral , contributing citizens. And yes, there is a difference. I used to believe in and support public education. But the proof is in the pudding. After three years away from public ed and instead homeschooling, I have a fourth grader reading at an 8th grade level who is proficient in her grade level math, a strong moral compass and compassion for her neighbors…. I must be doing it “wrong” 🤔