FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, April 28, 2022
Marc Schauber, Executive Director
802-780-0266 / firstname.lastname@example.org
STATEMENT BY THE COALITION FOR VERMONT STUDENT EQUITY BOARD OF DIRECTORS ON THE VERMONT HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PASSING S.287
Today the Coalition for Vermont Student Equity issued the following statement in response to the House passing S.287, the equitable education funding bill, on a 132-11 vote:
“We are thrilled to see more progress being made today toward getting this critical piece of legislation across the finish line this year.
For 25 years, low-income, rural districts, small schools, and English language learners have been underfunded in Vermont. An entire generation of learners and their communities have been harmed by this inequity. Today, with the passage of S.287 by the House, we are much closer to righting this wrong.
We are deeply thankful to Speaker Jill Krowinski and Representative Emilie Kornheiser for their hard work and dedication to getting this legislation through the House with so much support.
Thank you also to all the Vermonters who spoke up and refused to give up the fight for equity in the face of overwhelming challenges.
We look forward to working with the Legislature in the coming week to finalize and send the bill to Governor Scott.”
Board of Directors
Coalition for Vermont Student Equity / CVTSE.org
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Below is an email from the Executive Director of CVTSE to Representative Emilie Kornheiser (Brattleboro) and the House Ways and Means Committee that
"… is the best and most compelling executive summary prepared to date by the Coalition." Ted Plemenos, Director of Finance, Rutland City Public Schools
From: Marc Bernard Schauber (CVTSE)
Date: Mon, Apr 11, 2022 at 10:15 AM
Subject: Re: S.287
Thank you for your reply. I know your time is valuable and with all the time you’re putting into re-writing S.287, finding the time to put a thorough response together couldn’t have been easy to find.
Let me say first that I am not concerned about how S.287 affects my district. My job as Executive Director for the Coalition for Vermont Student Equity to be focused on the long term equity for not only our member districts, but all students in Vermont. As you know, RVUSD is made up of two towns, Dover and Wardsboro. Dover has been working for more than 20 years to get this inequity corrected. Dover, RVUSD and CVTSE headed into this past summer working to implement the recommendations from the December 24, 2019 Pupil Weighting Factors Report. We have all put our money where our mouth is… and that is despite the fact that Dover would have seen a tax increase.
It’s really important to understand that, despite the efforts being made under the Golden Dome, we aren’t focused on district by district comparisons. We’ve seen the extraordinary efforts being made to pit Coalition members against each other. Our member districts remain as united, if not more so today, than we have in the past. Burlington, Winooski and all 27 of our member districts see through the rhetoric and misleading statements. For many reasons, you aren’t going to convince Burlington or Winooski to abandon their work for true equity by throwing a few cent difference in tax rates at them, which are based on essentially fictitious numbers… no different than you aren’t going to endorse pupil weights simply because it means a $0.14 additional increase, total of $0.20, for your district that so desperately needs the tax capacity they would have received from implementation of the recommendations from the December 24, 2019 Pupil Weighting Factors Report.
And since so many seem to want to point to specific districts to make their argument for the Reverse Foundation Formula… consider this. Based on the Feb 2020 analysis done by JFO which was based on the B.1 simulation in the report, with the only exception being they chose to leave the small schools grant in place and not include the small schools weight in their simulation, WSESD would have seen a $0.15 reduction. So between the task force work and W&M, WSESD will effectively be facing a $0.35 increase. So there’s that.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind all of us that while tax rates are what is being used to represent changes, the fact is that what we are talking about is taxing capacity. Capacity that would be utilized by underweight districts to bring their level of services and programs up to an equitable level. I know you’ve heard this repeated many times… underweight districts will be using their taxing capacity for the benefit of their communities. Many of those communities have been forced to raise taxes above equitable levels because the state has been short changing them. Those districts should be able to make the decisions locally about whether what’s best for their community is a mix of greater spending and tax reduction or just greater spending. The Reverse Foundation Formula denies local communities of the ability to make what need to be local decisions. By upending the education funding system, you are flat out telling taxpayers, elected school board members, district administrators, parents and students that you know what’s best for every community and school district in Vermont. That’s an unnecessary power grab that rightfully perpetuates the ever growing belief that the government works against the people and not for the people.
Regarding the argument that the Reverse Foundation Formula and weights deliver on the goal of equity is unbelievably shortsighted. You’re sitting there making decisions without having received input from those of us on the ground and thinking that the spreadsheets that have been put in front of you represent reality or the future. That belief is greatly flawed:
- You’re using fictitious data
- You’re using constant spending
- You’ve renamed grants to suit your needs and are making claims that using grants isn’t significantly more susceptible to political manipulation than are weights. The idea that you can design a system of grants that’s baked into the system is a great talking point, but doesn’t hold water.
- Consider the situation where a group of legislators don’t believe it’s worth spending $10k on a student living in poverty or $25k on an ELL student (and face it, there are currently members of the House that hold those opinions.) Since you’ve chosen to put a dollar figure on a certain category of student, it’s very easy for this group of legislators to put an amendment on the floor to cut those numbers. That change is, as you’ve put it, ‘simple.’ The effort and time to make any sort of a similar attack using weights is far greater and complicated. Putting a dollar figure on the head of students is bad policy and will have a detrimental effect on the self esteem of students. You will have community members who don’t want to fund students in poverty or ELL students fighting with school boards. Think the mascot, CRT and mask fights were bad?
- Consider the situation where the economy goes in the dumpster again. The legislature is going to be looking for money. While you may not call these grants, that’s what they are, even if only ELL is “categorical with significant restrictions.” You may claim the money is baked into the large ed funding budget line, but once again, having put a ‘simple’ system in place that puts a dollar on the head of a student and then multiplies the number of students, changing that dollar amount is quite easy. Making the same change under the pupil weighting equity formula take real thought and evaluation.
- Your efforts to claim the average dollar figure you’re using in the Reverse Foundation Formula is the same as the average costs used to create the weights is, again, misleading. I’ll get back to this after I address your claim that a feature of the equity formula is an error.
- Fact is you are creating a system where some districts will receive less funding than they need, a small number will receive exactly what they need and some will receive more than they need. That’s not only, by definition, inequitable, but a concerted effort to create a system built on a bug.
- Let’s ignore for a minute that this is a ploy right out of the right wing playbook. Let’s ignore that it’s built on a foundation of classism, racism and poverty shaming. It produces the very same environment that the recommendations of the 2019 Pupil Weighting Factors Report were designed to correct. Overweight districts will get more funding than they need, and will spend it, raising taxes for all Vermonters. Underweight districts will get less funding than they need and will be left with the same choices they have now, raise taxes so they can provide the appropriate education or cut programs and services since their tax base can’t afford the state imposed penalty for not having a wealthy district. Nice bug/error.
- The costs to provide for the needs of their students won’t just vary across the state… the rates with which they rise will vary. This is another area where the Reverse Foundation Formula falls flat. Your argument that, essentially, the average is good enough and it’s up to local communities to make up the difference, flies in the face of Brigham’s assertion that it’s the state’s responsibility. You’re trying to have your tax capacity victory cake and eat it too. You want to be able to say the state’s education funding system is equitable, but you’re leaving the last mile, to draw a phrase from the world of broadband, up to local taxpayers to cover. But you won’t let local school boards and taxpayers make the decision of what to do with their ‘equitable’ tax capacity, instead believing it’s appropriate for the state to tell underweight districts what to do when you haven’t been telling overweight districts the same for the past 25 years.
The costs are different to educate different categories of students in different parts of the state. Weights account for those differences and grants do not, period. While average costs were used to statistically determine the weights, weights are not a static dollar amount while your system of grants is just that.
Now let’s talk about transparency and simplicity/communicating with the public:
- The data do not include the roughly $42M tax increase because you’ve chosen a path which makes ELL a grant taken off the top of the education fund.
- If transparency was of interest to Ways and Means, you would design a system where school boards have the information that’s necessary to present an accurate tax rate to their taxpayers. Because we all know that technically they vote on the budget amount, but what matters most to them is the tax rate that budget creates.
- Transparency is a responsibility of school boards, one we take very seriously. We take the time to explain the numbers we provide tax payers. If we don’t, budgets fail. You don’t have that problem, taxpayers don’t get to vote on the budget you all set.
- Our system of pupil weighting is well understood by superintendents, business managers and school boards. See, these are the people preparing the budget and they are the ones that need a solid understanding of how to get from A to B.
- This one I have to give you… adding and multiplying dollar figures is much simpler than using a system based on equity that takes a little time and effort to execute and explain. But in the simplicity vs true equity debate, we know which side we each come out on.
During her various times testifying, Professor Kolbe has told you about the limitations of the Reverse Foundation Formula. She has also told you that while theoretically RFF could work and be equitable, it would take quite a bit of work to both create and annually to maintain. Weights do have to be recalculated every 5 years. And do that in an accurate and apolitical fashion, researchers should be contracted and their updated weights applied, without approval of or discussion in the general assembly. Professor Kolbe testified that you cannot simply apply an inflationary factor… the drastic fluctuations in inflation we are witnessing today should have taught you to stay away from such a simplistic adjustment… talk about throwing greater volatility into a system that needs stability. But stability and true equity, which are both created as part of updating the weights, are clearly not the primary goals of W&M’s version of S.287.
While I appreciate your offer to speak or meet, I would prefer you use that time to bring in the list of witnesses you heard from during the Task Force process. There’s a reason that you heard from so many of us with boots on the ground and asked you to do what is right for our students today and into the future. The choice to live and breathe based on the testimony of less than a handful of witnesses while ignoring all the others, is going to be why your very own constituents suffer a $0.35 tax increase instead of having the additional taxing capacity WSESD administrators and Board are telling you they so desperately need.
Thank you for your time and consideration for this important matter.
“To those accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Coalition for Vermont Student Equity, Inc.
Marc Bernard Schauber, Executive Director
A Vermont Non-Profit Corporation
Speakers in order of appearance are:
Rory Thibault (Cabot School Board Chair, Board member of CVTSE) [Statement]
Martine Larocque Gulick (Burlington School Commissioner, Retired Educator) [Statement]
Dr. Alex Yin (Winooski School Board Trustee) [Statement]
Richard Werner (Chair, River Valleys Unified School District and Windham Central SU)
Montpelier, VT., — Today, a coalition of school board members and legislators from across the state came together inside the Vermont Statehouse to call on the House of Representatives to correct Vermont’s inequitable funding of multilingual learners and small, rural and low income schools. The group briefed the press on their support for the Vermont Senate’s proposal, S.287, and explained their deep concerns over the direction being taken by the House Committee on Ways and Means.
“This is not the time to experiment with new school funding systems”, said Richard Werner, Chair of River Valleys School and Windham Central Supervisory Union in Windham County. “Now is the time to end the unfairness by fixing the pupil weighting system we all know and have worked with for a number of years. In my view, the Senate passed bill is on the right track, with the corrections to the weights.”
Dr. Alex Yin, a School Board Trustee for the Winooski School District in Chittenden County said, “Most alarming is the potentially anti-democratic features of cost equity – this system will undermine the concept of local control and will effectively create two classes of Vermont school districts: those that bear the stigma and inflexibility of being “subsidized” (namely because of their income or demographics) and those who do not. This model does not account for regional variances in cost, and by providing grant amounts equivalent to the “average” additional spending needed for each cost factor virtually assures the cycle of disparity in the existing system will carry on — potentially in new and detrimental ways for some districts.”
“As someone who has worked in Vermont school districts with relatively low needs and lives in a district with high needs, I was baffled by the discrepancies I saw in funding between various districts,” said Martine Larocque Gulick, a Burlington School Commissioner and Retired Educator in from Chittenden County. “I came to realize that there were library budgets 10 times larger than the library budget at Burlington High School, the district where I live. While librarians in Burlington took care of technology integration for their schools, some schools not only had tech integration specialists but also a well-staffed IT department with an IT Director. Burlington has no IT Director and an understaffed IT department. More teachers and administrators, higher pay, more office staff; all of these resources allow a district to run smoothly, create stability and retain employees, ultimately affecting student outcomes.”
“As you know, The Senate recently passed S.287, a bill to fix these disparities,” Rory Thibault, the Chair of the Cabot Schoolboard in Caledonia County and a Board member of the Coalition for Vermont Student Equity. “This legislation uses empirical data to update how student needs are measured across the state for the purpose of distributing education funds to school districts. It’s the culmination of a study conducted by UVM and Rutgers in 2019, which confirmed what many of us on the ground long suspected: Vermont doesn’t accurately account for the costs of educating low-income, rural and multilingual learners, which means that our communities are forced to fill in the gaps off the backs of a typically low-income property tax base. The report’s recommendations are clear: implement the weights.”
Also in attendance to show support for the Senate passed bill were Rep. Gabrielle Stebbins (D-Burlington), Rep. Mari Cordes (D-Lincoln), Rep. Caleb Elder (D-Starksboro), Rep. Lucy Rogers (D-Waterville), Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington), Rep. Taylor Small (P-Winooski), Rep. Laura Sibilia (I-Dover), Rep. Carolyn Patridge (D-Windham), Rep. Curt McCormack (D-Burlington), Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden) and Dan Fingas representing Rights and Democracy Vermont, as well as various other school board members and community members from across the state.
The VT Supreme Court’s Brigham v. State ed equity decision was handed down 25 years ago. In the unanimous ruling, the court said that “Accordingly, we conclude that the current system, which concededly denies equal educational opportunities, is constitutionally deficient.”
Because of this landmark decision, VT now treats all of our children’s ed funding as a statewide responsibility, while also allowing for local decision making. Now to fully realize the promise of Brigham, corrected weights must be implemented.
TO: Senate Education Committee
FROM: Sue Ceglowski, Executive Director, Vermont School Boards Association
RE: English Language Learners Categorical Aid Program
DATE: January 20, 2022
Thank you for the opportunity to provide the Committee with VSBA’s position on the
proposal to change the funding mechanism for English Language Learners (ELL) from
pupil weighting to categorical aid. VSBA does not support this change.
VSBA’s position is based on a resolution passed by its members on November 4, 2021
and the VSBA Board’s application of the resolution to the final report of the Task Force
on the Implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report and supporting
documentation, including the October 28, 2021 memorandum from Dr. Tammy Kolbe et
al. to Representative Kornheiser and Senator Hardy and the January 11, 2022
memorandum from Dr. Tammy Kolbe et al. to Representative Kornheiser and Senator
VSBA supports implementation of the weights set out as option #1 in the Task Force’s
final report with the addition of the ELL weight of 2.49 (from Table 1, Model 4 of the
October 28 memo). These weights are designed to work together within Vermont’s
existing education funding formula.
There are several reasons we do not support a categorical funding program for ELL: (1)
using a categorical grant program for ELL would require the General Assembly to
calculate a new funding amount for the program each fiscal year, (2) choosing to
segregate ELL funding from the rest of the formula, and possibly setting the amount at
less than empirical analysis says it should be (due to the need for the General
Assembly to recalculate a new funding amount each year), may result in discrimination
against ELL students on the basis of race, national origin and language, (3) using a
categorical grant program for ELL and setting the amount at $25,335 (translated from a
weight of 2.49), would add $40 million to the top of the Ed Fund based on the number of
ELL students in the state, thereby driving down the yield and increasing tax rates for all
districts, and (4) using ELL weights is more efficient and provides more predictability to
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with the Committee today.
Vermont Social Equity Caucus Calls on Committees of Jurisdiction to Reflect True Educational Equity in Funding Formula for English Language Learners
January 25, 2022
To House and Senate Leadership, the Chairs of the House and Senate Committees on Education, and the Chairs of the House Committee on Ways & Means and the Senate Committee on Finance:
The undersigned members of the SEC have looked forward to seeing an implementation plan for revised pupil weights in all weighting categories. And so while we appreciate the incredibly hard work of the Task Force on the Implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report (Task Force), we are deeply concerned that no weight was proposed for English language learner (ELL) students in their final report. These recommendations place this cohort of students on a very different structural path in Vermont’s education funding models, with a higher degree of scrutiny on whether their stated needs are justified. Using weights is a proven way to give districts the independence and flexibility they need to equitably resource ELL students. We feel it’s important to articulate at this time why a weight for ELL students should still be under consideration.
Further, the SEC believes any legislation to correct pupil weights should acknowledge harm faced by school districts whose student populations were underweighted for the past 25 years. For example, acknowledging the challenge of passing sufficient school budgets when, according to the weights, adequate spending was deemed overspending. A clear acknowledgement of the state’s responsibility, not only for harm done, but for the causes that led to such harm, is essential to building trust with the communities that have experienced this harm. It gives meaning to institutional reforms and also guarantees non-repetition.
In place of an ELL weight, the Task Force has recommended using categorical grants. They heard testimony suggesting that a categorical aid program could work well for certain districts, particularly with small but growing numbers of ELL students. This, however, is not the case for districts with larger ELL student populations. Therefore the SEC believes any legislation on this matter must include an ELL weight as the default, while allowing districts to opt-in to a grant program in lieu of ELL weighting if that more effectively resources ELL students in their schools. Professor Kolbe suggested considering this approach in her January 11, 2022 memo to the Task Force, saying “Given the heterogeneity in need among Vermont districts, it also may be worth considering a hybrid policy approach that allows districts to opt into different approaches for cost adjustments (e.g. weights or categorical grant.)” We agree with this thinking and hope it receives due consideration as an option.
Of course, if categorical aid programs are used for any districts in lieu of weights, they must use empirically sound grant amounts. The Task Force put forward provisional grant amounts in their final report, but they were not derived from the UVM/Rutgers study’s results. They were, instead, modeled on past spending in VT as well as spending on ELL students by school
districts nationally. In the Task Force’s final report the authors acknowledge, “While the $5,000 per pupil compares generously with most other states, it may not be sufficient in the Vermont context. At the writing of this final report, the Task Force awaits further analysis from Professor Kolbe and her team on both the cost equivalencies of the weights outlined in their October 28, 2021, memo and their recommendation for an ELL categorical aid amount.”
In her January 11, 2022 memo Professor Kolbe suggests modeling a grant program on past spending could be problematic. In reference to ELL programs in other states, Kolbe explains, “ELL adjustments contained in most contemporary state school funding policies are not cost based, and instead reflect legacy policy or were politically derived.” Further, Projessor Kolbe says the following about treatment of ELL students in many educational cost studies, “In fact,
some school funding studies do not explicitly consider the additional cost of educating ELL students. That said, all methods agree that current funding levels in most states are insufficient to meet specified performance standards.” This information from Professor Kolbe emphasizes the need to include empirically sound ELL categorical grant amounts for districts who elect to use and not simply to base grant amounts on what we see others doing regionally.
So what grant amount would be appropriate for the ELL students? Professor Kolbe states, “..if the goal is to develop a categorical grant program that provides a per pupil grant amount that reflects the average cost to schools of educating an ELL student, then our estimate can best be understood as the typical additional cost of educating an ELL student to common outcomes for FY2018.” And, “For FY 2018, the average additional cost of educating an ELL student to common outcomes was $22,947.” Professor Kolbe goes on to explain that, assuming an annual escalation of 2%, this would equal an average additional cost in FY 2023 of $25,335 per ELL student. It seems that this amount per student, not $5,000, should be the starting point for a conversation about ELL grants in lieu of weights.
While we acknowledge an opt-in ELL grant program for some districts could work at the right funding level, communities and school districts with the highest numbers of ELL students are telling us they value weighting and what it affords. Take, as a devastating example, the impact of the current Task Force recommendations on the Winooski School District, where 35 percent of students are identified as multilingual learners (ML). As one school official noted:
“If weights are not implemented as recommended by Prof. Kolbe, we will have to eliminate all of the new ML staff we hired using ESSER funds. These positions include: three liaison/interpreter positions, two ML teacher positions and one ML intake and family engagement coordinator. Other ESSER-funded positions at risk: elementary literacy and math interventionists (one each), one HS reading interventionist, one elementary behavior interventionist. These positions support ML learners in addition to other students who have been identified as in need of additional support.
We will also be unable to move forward with expansion of our pre-K program, which will not only benefit ML students, but the 62 percent of families who live in poverty in this community. The new poverty measure disadvantages Winooski because it excludes ELL learners from the count and relies on families completing FRL paperwork, which we currently do not require them to complete due to our high percentage of poverty, which makes us eligible for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).
The CEP program makes it possible for us to provide breakfasts and lunches free to all students, regardless of their income status, because more than 40 percent of our student population receives SNAP nutrition benefits. So, in order for us to have all the paperwork completed in a timely way so that we get an accurate picture of poverty in our community, we will have to hire more people to support families – translating the paperwork and having it completed.”
These impacts on a school serving one of the largest populations of ELL students in the state are unacceptable and we expect any legislation to move toward implementing the empirically derived weights to ensure we are providing adequate resources to all students, not causing greater harm to our most vulnerable populations.
We hope the impacts of each possible path forward will be thoroughly vetted by our House and Senate Education Committees. These are not questions of education financing, as much as questions of education equity and best practices for resourcing learning. Our ELL students and the Limited English Proficient families that support their learning are some of our newest Vermonters and contain immense potential to positively transform our state. They need and deserve the best possible start to become our future citizens and leaders, and they are entitled to this by our constitution. We lament the loss of workforce and population in our state’s government, while we have an incredible opportunity to invest in our young learners in a way that would give them the true foundation they need and deserve.
Rep. Coach Christie & Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale
Co-Chairs of the Social Equity Caucus
Sen. Philip Baruth
Rep. Tiff Bluemle
Rep. Mollie Burke
Rep. Elizabeth Burrows
Rep. Brian Cina
Rep. Selene Colburn
Rep. Hal Colston
Rep. Mari Cordes
Rep. Kate Donnally
Rep. Caleb Elder
Rep. John Gannon
Rep. Bob Hooper
Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stana
Rep. Will Notte
Rep. Dan Noyes
Rep. Kelly Pajala
Rep. Avram Patt
Rep. Barbara Rachelson
Rep. Lucy Rogers
Rep. Laura Sibilia
Rep. Katherine Sims
Rep. Taylor Small
Rep. Gabrielle Stebbins
Rep. Heather Suprenant
Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky
Rep. Terri Williams
Rep. Theresa Wood
Rep. Dave Yacovone