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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673

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Double, double toil and trouble

By Jim Parker

I guess it is appropriate to quote Shakespeare as we try to quell our frustration over the out-of-control education funding system. I thought The Valley Reporter editorial was right on with its reference to Macbeth. I see it as a boiling brew of spending that has overflowed its cauldron, more Macbeth.

But the Legislature continues to buzzword the problem rather than fix it.

Now we have the "leveling down" that occurs with these well-meaning egalitarian solutions, where the goal of equal funds and opportunity turn into equal misery for the small schools, often doing a better job than their larger counterparts.

The big flaw in this solution to meet or exceed the requirements of the Brigham decision is that no "sufficiently equal" cost for education was determined.

The Supreme Court did not dictate how "equal education opportunity" was to be achieved. In fact, it is one of the first statements made in the Brigham decision. But the education demagogues jumped into action, after years of being ticked off, and created Act 60. Arguably the most convoluted, complicated and expensive education formula ever created –truly worthy of the witches' brew created by the witches of Macbeth.

Proof is a system that in the short span of 17 years has almost tripled the cost of education while serving 20 percent fewer students and has increased the payroll to 80 percent of total spending without improving education outcomes in a significantly measurable way.

Only an intractable Legislature could accomplish this and keep from changing it by spending enormous amounts on studies that show how great it is.

The change, known as Act 68, just added more funds, by increasing the sales tax by 1 percent, promising that it would reduce the impact on property taxes. All it did is postpone the increase and did not cap the property tax, so that now 68 percent of education spending comes from the property tax. Most other states keep the property tax portion to 50 percent or less.

So the "leveling down" begins as consolidation. You will hear how reducing the number of school districts will improve outcomes and provide more opportunity. Those are the buzzwords again. But they don't know if it will save any money, and it will cost $16 million to implement.

Be very, very dubious. This is the same sales pitch that was used when we were told that by giving up your property tax to the state to fund education, it will be easier to keep the costs down, while "making sure" all our students have equal opportunity.

Still no one asks the question, why has the school enrollment gone down by 30,000 and continues to go down? Could it be we are education poor and there are better opportunities in other states?

Everything about this funding formula is about "leveling down." Now that we are spending $1.58 billion to educate 88,000 students, and $1.2 billion is payroll, there is no solution but to level down, reduce school districts, reduce supervisory unions, reduce teachers, take away more local control from towns.

Property taxes are local control. Establishing a sufficiently equal per pupil spending amount, say $13,000 per student, and funding this amount locally and weighting the grand lists to help those other school districts with lower grand lists achieve this "sufficiently equal" amount, should be the limit of our property taxes. Greater spending than this should be raised locally or come from an education income tax for those school districts deemed too important to fail.

There has to be a significant cost reduction component or our property taxes will continue to be the education committee's blank check.

Those who have created this mess and have failed to correct it should be held accountable at the ballot box.

Parker lives in Warren.


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