Editor’s note: This commentary is by Margaret MacLean, who is an educator with 40 years’ experience and a Peacham resident. A former Vermont Principal of the Year, MacLean’s term on the Vermont State Board of Education ended in March 2015.
Last year the Legislature grappled with the issue of declining student enrollment and the resulting impact on education costs. They pondered how to respond to this problem in a way that would curb cost and at the same time enhance equity of opportunity for all Vermont students. The result is the new education law Act 46.
Since the law’s passage Vermonters have begun to understand the ramifications of the law and its impact locally. In doing so they have talked to legislators and it has been acknowledged from the governor on down that the law needs to be “tweaked” this session.
Act 46 would organize Vermont’s school system around units of at least 900 students with one school board and superintendent. If we were starting from scratch it might make sense, but in fact, Act 46 is a neat and tidy solution that is not in tune with Vermont values of equity and fairness and denies the reality of our culture, geography and history.
It is only when you look beyond the surface of Act 46 that you begin to understand. It was never talked about openly during the last legislative session, but it was decided that the solution to the problem of declining enrollment and escalating cost was to be laid at the door of our smallest, most rural communities.
Never mind that our smaller community schools are not the biggest drivers of increasing education costs and that many cost below the state average. Never mind that many of our smaller community schools are among our most flexible and innovative. Never mind that many can point to strong academic results for students and never mind that these small schools have higher proportions of children living in poverty than the state average (74 percent of schools receiving small schools grants have higher than average student poverty rates).
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