Task force on weighting formula is long overdue

For 25 years, rural schools, impoverished students, and students with English-language-learning needs have been given short shrift, if not completely neglected

MARLBORO — The Legislature has recently passed S.13 establishing a task force to study and implement updates to weighting factors in Vermont's education funding formula.

The task force will use a study commissioned by the Vermont Legislature and completed by Professor Kolbe from the University of Vermont. The study contains some very specific recommendations for how to address the issue of inequity, which will serve as the basis for the group's work.

It is important to note that the recommendations of the study do not add any funding from either state or local sources; they simply reallocate the same pot of money so that local tax rates become more equitable.

It is generally accepted that some local taxpayers in Vermont pay more than others to educate the children in their community - few people dispute this.

The residents of communities with larger levels of poverty, with larger levels of non-English-speaking populations, and with schools in more rural settings have a larger tax burden than is equitable compared to schools in communities without these criteria.

Dr. Kolbe's recommendations make this clear: It costs more and puts a larger tax burden on local taxpayers to educate these kids.

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This task force has the work of rectifying this inequity issue, as it has been 20 years since the passage of Act 60. By our understanding, the weighting of pupils should have been a focus immediately after its passage.

This means that for 25 years, rural schools, impoverished students, and students with English-language-learning needs have been given short shrift, if not completely neglected.

In the past, Vermont has used block grants or categorical aid to some schools to cover needed extra spending, but these methods are stopgap ways to address the issue.

We feel that correcting the weighting formulas will be a more precise and less arbitrary way to get the funds to the needy kids. More equitable formulas will make funding more easily duplicatable from year to year.

As the secretary of education has already said and testified before the Legislature: “Vermont does not have a fundraising problem, it has an equity distribution problem.”

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It has been posited that districts with higher per-pupil spending which fall into any of the above weighting categories (high levels of poverty, high levels of non-English speakers, or highly rural) would get a larger reduction in local tax rates if the Weighting Study recommendations are implemented.

That criticism completely misses the point.

The original reason many of these districts have higher per-pupil expenses in the first place is because they have more children living in poverty, who do not speak English as a first language, or are more rural.

These communities already have a higher local tax burden, and changing the weighting formulas is an effort to address this so that the local tax burdens around Vermont will be more equitable.

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If people reading this wish to truly understand this issue, as it will most certainly affect tax rates across the state in the next few years, we encourage you to reach out to one of the many organizations that is at the forefront of this issue.

The Coalition for Vermont Student Equity is a great place to start.

Also, contact your local school board chair to see if a) they are aware of the issue and understand it and b) are advocating on your town's behalf to ensure that 25 years of inequity is righted.

This task force is long overdue, and we welcome it. We hope the public will see that the right thing to do is to look out for the generation of children in our schools who have been underfunded for the last generation.

They will not be getting those years back.

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