Since Brigham: school funding has doubled, staff up 17%; enrollment down 20%

By John McClaughry

In 1996 the Vermont Supreme Court issued the Brigham Decision, which required that there be “substantially equal education tax resources in every district.” (Note: It does not guarantee equal spending on or opportunity for students.)

John McClaughry

In response, the legislature passed Act 60 in 1997, which, in simple terms, gives the voters of 256 school districts the responsibility for approving local school budgets, and a (then) newly established state education fund the responsibility for funding them.

Money sources for the education fund include property taxes (homestead and non-homestead), a general fund transfer, sales & motor vehicle purchase taxes, lottery profits, and some miscellaneous funds.

However, homestead property taxpayers with household incomes of less than $90,000 are “income sensitized” and are allowed to pay their property taxes as a percentage of income (1.8%). Roughly 70% of Vermont homesteads are income sensitized.

The major consequence of Act 60 has been breaking the link between what local voters choose to spend on their schools, and the responsibility for paying those bills.  Now the school money drops from the sky (the Education Fund), and the costs may bear little relationship to the amount of taxes levied on local homestead owners.


  • Since the passage of Act 60, annual education spending has risen from roughly $780 million to over $1.5 billion.
  • Public K-12 student population has dropped from 106,000 to under 87,500.
  • Public K-12 staff has grown 17.1% from 15,783 (1997) to 18,482 (2012). According to NEA statistics, Vermont has the lowest student teacher ratio in the nation at 9.2 to 1. The national average is 15.9 to 1.
  • Despite all of this, student SAT scores have remained largely flat, NECAP scores show that an alarming number of students remain “below proficient” in Math, Reading and Science, and no progress has been made in bridging the achievement gap between poor and more well off students.

The author, a resident of Kirby, is a former White House domestic policy advisor, Vermont state senator, and founder and current vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Categories: Education

4 replies »

  1. ‘Systemic Racism’ describes what happens when cultural institutions and systems reflect individual racism. As Dr. Crystal Fleming writes in “How To Be Less Stupid About Race”:

    “Whether you realize it or not, racism is systemic, pervasive and embedded within the core of all of our major institutions.”

    Therefore, with the Progressive Socialists crying out for the defunding of the police, by their own logic we should also be defunding public schools for their ’embedded’ racism and allow taxpayers to direct their property taxes toward the schools of their choosing, K-12!

  2. So, we have another law that didn’t work. The legislative culture focuses on passing laws without a follow-up time table for assessing its impact. Are they achieving the common good intended? Are the constituents finding the law’s intrusiveness tolerable? Are there unintended consequences? Perhaps the legislative culture could evolve to include repealing laws that don’t work. An expiration date and re-assessment clause attach to any law passed would be helpful.

  3. It’s ironic that these “educators” and their union representatives are not smart enough to realize that they are wielding the ax that will kill the goose that keeps laying their golden eggs ? The even sadder part is that in the mean time they are corrupting another generation of youth with their dogma.

  4. The devil is always in the detail – have we really voted on anything fairly (?) I mean this topic is under serious scrutiny – has spending really been what any of “them” claim it is? They are being exposed – note the names – dissect spending. Would be fascinating to review invoice spending. Need to change the landscape and those in it before embarking on changing laws. No opportunity to hide more of the same under a new name.

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