Burlington and Winooski Mayors and Councils Send Joint Letter to Legislators Requesting Pupil Weights be Corrected

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From the City Councils of Burlington & Winooski

To: President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, Speaker Jill Krowinski, Sen. Philip Baruth, Sen. Thomas Chittenden, Sen. Ginny Lyons, Sen. Christopher Pearson, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, Sen. Michael Sirotkin, Rep. Tiffany Bluemle, Rep. Brian Cina, Rep. Selene Colburn, Rep. Robert Hooper, Rep. Harold Colston, Rep. Curt McCormack, Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Rep. Carol Ode, Rep. Barbara Rachelson, Rep. Gabrielle Stebbins

Dear Legislators,

We are writing as officials who have been elected to represent our incredibly diverse communities. Burlington and Winooski are a reflection of the changing demographic of the United States, and Vermont. Together, our two cities are home to many cultures and languages. This isn’t just a feature, this is the soul of our communities.

The Pupil Weighting Factors Report of 2019 determined unequivocally that Vermont currently and substantially undercounts students who live in poverty and English language learners for the purpose of allocating education funds. This Report, backed up with data and science, what those of us living in these communities have known for a long time: That there are vast inequities in our school funding system.

Our communities were hopeful when the Task Force on the Implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report was first convened. The charge of the Task Force seemed clear: to create a thoughtful approach to implementing the recommendations of the 2019 Report. Our community members lined up to testify at public hearings, and you heard from nearly 100 percent of public commenters that the best approach wasn’t categorical aid or a reverse engineering of the weights. You heard from nearly  every person who spoke that the only acceptable solution is the full implementation of the Report’s recommendations.

As we near the end of this process, it has been disappointing to watch the Task Force pivot away from their charge, and to instead come out of this summer and fall with two vague sets of recommendations. Both sets of recommendations would remove ELL from the equity formula designed to address their needs. It would treat them as a separate system of learners, based solely on their language and country of origin. This is, plain and simple, a discriminatory policy. While we do not assign any sinister motives to the Task Force, we feel it’s critical that this discrimination is called out so that the Task Force has the opportunity to rectify this wrong before the train leaves the station for good.

Our communities also have deep concerns with the so-called “Cost Equity Proposal”. While this may not be the intention, we understand this approach will take us back to something akin to a foundation formula. This approach has us puzzled over the amount of time and resources that have gone into creating any solution other than implementing the Report’s recommendations. We came into this process with a solution, and what we needed was a map to get us there. We are now leaving this process with two new solutions and no map. We are no closer to achieving equity than we were when the Report’s recommendations were first made public in 2019. Further, the Task Force has not provided complete financial modeling such that we can compare recommendations to understand the potential impact to our communities’ taxing capacity.

We are calling on our leaders in the legislature to pivot back to their charge and to create a plan to implement the Report’s recommendations. The legislature commissioned this Report and its long past time that a path for implementation is created. This is in your power to reverse course and fix the harm that has been caused to districts for decades, and to prevent new harms from being created by these discriminatory proposals.

Approved by the Winooski City Council December 6, 2021

Mayor Kristine Lott

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Deputy Mayor Hal Colston
Councilor Jim Duncan
Councilor Michael Myers
Councilor Bryn Oakleaf

Approved by the Burlington City Council December 13, 2021

Mayor Miro Weinberger
Council President Max Tracy
Councilor Mark Barlow
Councilor Sarah E Carpenter
Councilor Ali N Dieng
Councilor Perri Freeman
Councilor Jack Hanson
Councilor Zoraya Hightower
Councilor Joe Magee
Councilor William “Chip” Mason
Councilor Karen Paul
Councilor Joan Shannon
Councilor Jane Stromberg