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Structural shift

There is a proposal in the Vermont House that would significantly change the structure of education in the state. The House education committee is considering a proposal to do away with the state's 60 supervisory unions and restructure its 282 school districts into 30-60 school districts.

Supporters of the proposal suggest that the change will improve educational outcomes, enhance curriculum development and teaching, and perhaps reduce costs.

This restructuring would be very different than the voluntary consolidation and restructuring that Act 153 called for. The dregs of that bill have two supervisory unions in the area fighting a state board of education proposal to mandate that the local supervisory union become the supervisory union for Granville and Hancock students – without requiring that those students attend local schools.

So perhaps it's a great idea whose time has come, but unless it is implemented with accompanying reform to how education is funded in the state, it's going to fall flat.

Anti-Act 60/68 folks in the state have insisted, for many years, that the funding mechanism that those laws create will collapse of its own weight like a house of cards. That funding mechanism is based on the premise that property values will always rise, and the recent recession proved not only that that was a false assumption but that this funding formula does not work.

Sure, let's hear this new proposal. Fewer larger supervisory unions and school districts make sense if there are clear financial impacts. Since state education funds are distributed based on student enrollment, larger districts would help mitigate the impacts when enrollment shifts slightly or students with special needs enroll.

Vermont has a projected 89,000 students this year in 282 school districts within 64 supervisory unions. In the state, 231 districts have less than 500 students; 92 districts have fewer than 100 students. Given that major metropolitan areas have school districts with many, many times more students, perhaps there will be an economy of scale in this proposed consolidation.

So let's hear it, but fix the funding at the same time, please.

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