The absurdity of Act 46 was on display in the Legislature this week. This is the law that has set the train of school consolidations rolling and put in place spending caps that have confronted school boards with the impossible job of setting budgets in the dark. Once the caps are in place, they promise to impose funding inequities on the schools that are contrary to the kind of fairness Vermonters have come to expect. The absurdity came when members of the Education Board came before the House Education Committee to say that in order to administer the new law, the Education Agency would require additional staffing. Staff has fallen from 213 to 170 since 2008 (the beginning of the Great Recession), and most of the remaining staff is paid for with federal funds. That means their duties are circumscribed, and they cannot be shunted over to handle the demands of Act 46.
School boards across Vermont are struggling with budgets while keeping in mind the rigid and arbitrary budget caps imposed upon them last year by the Legislature. In his state of the state address Thursday, Gov. Peter Shumlin asked the Legislature either to repeal or delay the effects of the caps.
In doing so, Shumlin sought to contain unhappiness with Act 46, the state’s school consolidation and finance law, to the issue of the spending caps. He said Act 46 was actually “working better than any of us had anticipated” and he called the spending caps a “teeny” part of the law that should not be allowed to damage the law as a whole.
It’s an open question how the law as a whole is working. In a few years, as small schools around the state are forced to close their doors because of budget constraints imposed by Montpelier, it may not seem to be working so well. But the spending caps are a clear and present danger to our schools and ought to be r...
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today about the effect of the Allowable Growth Threshold and, in particular, to share some views from principals about how this will affect education in their schools.
As you know from previous testimonies, I try to reach out to the field to gather “on the ground” information before I testify in front of you. Knowing that I would testify today, I have asked school principals how this has affected their budget work on their FY 17 budgets. Given that they have just back from break, and that their plates are really full, some took the opportunity to respond. I am providing you with the link below so you can read the entire compendium of comments I received from school principals.
I want to add that I realize that budgets are ultimately owned by school boards and communities. When I was principal, I learned not to take budget cutting personally, to advocate for the actual needs of our...
The Vermont Legislature has an opportunity to show respect to local voters and local school officials by getting two things done before the end of January:
Repeal the rigid spending limits that threaten to unnecessarily increase property taxes this year.
Set the education tax yields for fiscal 2017 so that voters will know the tax consequences of their school budgets on Town Meeting Day.
It’s imperative for the Legislature to act quickly on both of these because school boards—and voters—now are getting contradictory messages.
Act 46, the law passed late last spring, imposes tax penalties to try to force school districts to curb spending increases. In the meantime, the tax commissioner has recommended using a surplus in the Education Fund to cut property taxes this year, making it easier for school boards to increase their spending.
Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, had it right when she told...
Act 46 asks questions about education quality, equity and cost. But unless the legislature repairs its flaws, its biggest impact may be on democracy.
Schools are where we spend the majority of locally collected tax dollars. And here, we entrust what’s most precious to us - our children - to a public system. So it’s no wonder that participating in decisions around schools is the most organic and powerful way for adults to discover their role in public life.
And schools function best when the community is involved. The future of public education depends on citizens who are willing to pay for education - with their time, wisdom and dollars. For this, we need their democratic engagement.
But one of the unintended consequences of Act 46 is to move engagement out of reach of the average Vermonter.
Here’s one example. Although Vermont women hold only 1 in 5 select board or city council positions, women hold over half the seats on Vermont’s school boards. It’s extraor...