Bill passed House last week promises pupil funding equity
by Rep. Art Peterson
Bill S.287, the pupil weighting bill, voted on and approved last week in the Vermont House, is a classic example of a misguided attempt at “equity”.
Apparently several years in the making, this complicated mess of numbers, fractions, and decimal points tries to convince us that if we just allocated education funds differently in our towns it would create equality of educational opportunity for all children in Vermont. It passed on a 132-11 roll call vote. I was one of the eleven.
The bill begins with what I’ll call “convenient Constitutionalism”: using the State Constitution when it fits your purpose, in this case wrapped around a 1997 court case that decreed that “students must be afforded equal access to all that our education system has to offer”. It should be noted that last year these same lawmakers afforded non-citizens the right to vote in Montpelier and Winooski and 16 year olds the right to vote in Brattleboro, both instances in direct violation of the language in our State Constitution. It all depends on what you’re trying to sell when it comes to constitutionality!
The bill then goes into a dizzying array of words and numbers, dividing school children by age, grade, the rural nature of where they live, what language they speak, and, most intrusively, family income.
This last item needs clarification. The plan is to create a “universal income declaration form” that all families will be required to fill out and provide to their school and the Agency of Education to determine whether the student is from an “economically deprived background”. So now schools will have our private income information. Anyone see the government creeping too far into our lives? They say that the information will be protected. That assurance is not good enough for me.
The shifting of pupil weighting values will affect homestead property tax rates. Poorer town rates will go down, richer town rates will rise. The state portion of education funding will make up the difference. In the rich towns the rise of rates will be capped at 5% per year. School boards will continue to propose budgets, and the theory is that, in poor towns, more can be spent, leading to better educational opportunities there.
Really? Anyone confused yet? The change in pupil counts caused by the additional weighting plus the rise and fall of the homestead tax rates, along with the normal rises in school budgets looks to be a strange brew that promises uncertain results. In addition, this plan will require five additional full time positions in the State (of course!), 2 funded now and 3 later as we see how this plan works. Trust me, it will be said that it works!
This is a simplified look at the bill; it is 44 pages long and filled with findings, goals, definitions, and rules. This bill, when enacted, will further complicate an already very complicated education funding scheme that, in my view, is destined to spend more without any appreciable increase in education quality. Throwing money at education hasn’t yet raised test scores, and it won’t this time either.
The author is a first-term Republican lawmaker feom Clarendon.