(802) 780-0266 info@cvtse.org PO Box 1967, West Dover, VT 05356

NEWS

5 Limitations of Categorical Aid for Education Funding in VT

5 limitations to the “Option 2 scenario” (Reverse Foundation Formula, AKA: Cost Equity) according to Tammy Kolbe

  1. Foundation grants or categorical aid – 
    • They are challenging to calibrate and maintain – it is difficult to get the grant right. What should the amount be? The grants will mean something different in different districts and schools, and they will need to be frequently updated. 
    • They Cause legislative burdens – will require work on the part of the legislature, AOE and Joint fiscal office.
  2. There are equity concerns –  could widen the gap between top and bottom spenders in the state. 
    • Average grant amounts – Run counter to local control – They bring additional dollars, they don’t adjust for spending. They don’t adjust for local spending decisions. (Some districts might get more dollars and spend up to that amount.) 
  3. Cost containment – Categorical grants will increase average spending per pupil statewide. 
    • Some grants will overadjust cost for districts to spend more. There are insufficient disincentives to contain costs. (Weights are designed to help contain spending.) Districts will maximize spending with grants. 
  4. Potential for political manipulation – categorical aid opens up appropriations for cost differentials to legislative discretion – small schools grants as an example. 
  5. Issue of competition of resources – they are viewed as supplemental, they should not be! These should be cost adjustments to general education spending. 
    • The fact that there would be tinkering or competition for resources in the ed fund is a huge flaw. Tradeoffs undermine the intent of this work. The idea of weights is to Adjust for cost factors that are outside of district control to Equalize spending ability and to tax capacity! 

(With categorical aid, you are subject to the whims of politics, the health of the education fund and years from now you will be back in this situation. Also, it takes control of budgets out of the hands of local school boards. To quote Alex Yin of the Winooski school board: We can hold our school boards accountable much more easily than legislators in Montpelier.) 

CVTSE Testifies to the Senate Education Committee on ELL

The Senate Committee on Education is in the process of taking up the issue of funding for ELL as recommended by the Legislative Task Force on the Implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report. CVTSE very much appreciates Chair Senator Brian Campion and the Committee inviting our Board Member and Treasurer, Alison Notte and our Executive Director, Marc Schauber, to testify as part of their hearing on January 21, 2022.

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

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12/14/2021

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

CVTSE Issues Statement in Response to a Legislative Proposal on Educational Funding Equity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 14, 2021
Contact: Marc Schauber
marc@cvtse.org
(802) 780-0266

The Coalition for Vermont Student Equity Issues Statement in Response to a Legislative Proposal on Educational Funding Equity

“As an organization that is solely focused on creating equitable educational opportunities for all of Vermont’s children, we are deeply appreciative of the work done by the legislative Task Force on the Implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report, and we support some of their recommendations. Specifically, we support the recommendation to correct the flawed pupil weighting formula. This will allow the state to accurately measure student needs and allocate resources to school districts. For the past 20-plus years, districts all over the state have struggled to fund their schools because the formula that accounts for needs and allocates education funds has been broken. 

We do, however, remain staunchly opposed to the task force’s alternative proposal that would take Vermont backwards to a system that Vermont abandoned decades ago because it contributed to vast inequities in our education funding. This solution was aptly named the Reverse Foundation Formula by Professor Tammy Kolbe. By presenting this so-called “cost equity” proposal, the Task Force is attempting to overhaul the entire education funding system. But the entire system isn’t broken. According to a research report published in 2019 by University of Vermont and Rutgers University, the pupil weights must be corrected to accurately account for student needs across the state. This is a distribution issue, plain and simple.

Another problematic aspect of this legislative proposal is the removal of English language learners from the equity formula. Our coalition is advocating for the pupil weights to be corrected for every student: those in poverty, those attending small schools and rural schools, and those who are English language learners. Regardless of the intent, removing English language learners from the equity formula and funding their education separately with unreliable grants is discriminatory. We look forward to working with the legislature in January to correct this measure, implement the correct funding formula and create equitable educational opportunities for all of Vermont’s children.”  

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The Coalition for Vermont Student Equity is composed of member school districts/supervisory unions and school board members from various communities and districts across the state. While we come from communities that couldn’t look more different from one another, we have come together around our common belief that all of Vermont’s children deserve equitable educational opportunities. But Vermont’s education funding methodology is outdated and must be corrected in order to provide these equitable educational opportunities to all of Vermont’s kids. We believe that education is a key component in helping children thrive and succeed and that education provides huge benefits economically to our state by ensuring we have a skilled and well-educated workforce.

Dr. Alex Yin Testifies to Task Force on Behalf of CVTSE

My name is Alex Yin and thank you for this opportunity to speak on behalf of the Coalition for Vermont Student Equity.  

I want to first thank the Task Force for your report on Pupil Weighting. I greatly appreciate the time and effort it took to complete the report over the past 6 months. 

I also want to acknowledge the efforts of past and current legislators in creating an equitable education system. These conversations are never easy and so the willingness to tackle such difficult issues. In creating the current system, I recognize that it was progressive for its time.  But change is inevitable. Fortunately for us, we have people who do research to ensure that we become more effective and efficient for this ever changing world. In reflecting, I am thankful for the innovative thought process of the legislators in 1997, but no doubt all of us know the current pupil weighs are not correct.

I joined the Winooski School Board in 2017, because I thought my academic background, which includes masters’ degrees in electrical engineering and applied statistics and PhD in higher education and professional background, which includes 16 years working in institutional research and assessment would be an asset. My professional peers have also recognized my expertise as I was recently elected to be President-elect of the North East Association for Institutional Research, which includes higher education institutions from Maine to Ohio to Maryland. In short, my expertise is in education and analyzing data. I also ran for the Winooski School Board because as an Asian American, I knew it would be important for the students of color in my community to see people of color in leadership positions. 

At times, I feel I have failed them especially during the budget season when I was trying to balance their needs with what our taxpayers could afford. I thought when I joined the school board, I would be fighting to fund the arts program in a fiscally responsible way that would prevent gentrification. Hence we would be educating the students that were currently living in our school district and not pricing them out of our city. Little did I know, I would be making decisions between year-round busing, school supplies, or building and updating a facility so that students did not have to learn in classrooms that sometimes reached 90 degrees. These are things that many would consider are basic needs for a student. After reading Pupil Weighting Factors Report (PWF Report), I learned the failure was not on me but the inadequate weights of our current system.   

I have no doubt that we all agree “the current weights for students living in poverty, English Language Learners (ELL), and secondary school student were insufficient and that additional weights should be added to address further inequities related to middle school students, school districts in sparsely populated regions of the State, and geographically necessary small schools (p.4).”  Given the numerous public testimonies from parents, students, teachers, principals, and superintendents, we can see the harm it has done to our children. It is also not by accident that the best schools according to US News and World Report Rankings are in well-funded districts.

Thus, I appreciate that the Task Force constantly asks, “If we were to rebuild our school finance system from the bottom up to better ensure educational equity, how would you do it? (p. 8)” In answering this question, I think we can turn to higher education for guidance. In the past, higher education quality was primarily judged by inputs such as expenditures per student, number of library books, number of applications, etc. It is only in the last 20 years, we not only judged by inputs but also by its outputs (e.g., learning outcomes, retention rates, degrees awarded). 

The elegance of the PWF Study is that it created weights with an outcome in mind. In simple terms, the researchers used 10 years of data to examine what the costs would be for equitable student achievement. In the study, student achievement is defined as the average mean scale across grades and subject areas. I appreciate the Task Force Committee’s concern is that outcomes were the standardized testing. Yes, I agree that they are not the most perfect measure, but there is no such thing as a perfect metric. Yet, aren’t these the same metrics that the public is evaluating us on with regards to the quality of the school district. The measures used by the researcher was as good a metric as you were going to get. And I appreciate that the researchers did not let perfection get in the way of progress. 

With that said, I have told members of the Task Force that if you are not happy with those metrics then to please use items from the Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) such as:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for at least a two-week period, past 12 months
  • Have at least one teacher or other adult in their school they can talk to
  • Feel valued in the community.

These are data collected on a regular cycle, which would not place any additional burdens on our schools. The question then becomes why ask the public if you aren’t going to listen?

I appreciate the Task Force’s effort to provide an alternative solution to an equitable weighting system. And at first glance the cost equity formula approach appears to be reasonable. However, on a deeper dive there are many flaws with the cost equity formula. There is a reason why it took the PWF researchers over a year to complete the report which included a policy scan, literature reviews and peer state profiles, and interviews to obtain stakeholder perceptions and experiences with existing funding formula. Creating a solution for a brand new equitable system does not take merely 12 meetings and the flaws are evident from a practical standpoint. For example,

  • Given that it is taken so long for the state to provide information regarding yield, equalized pupil, and the common level of appraisal (CLA), trying to add “actual funding equivalent” to the equation would making planning almost impossible for those school districts who rely on these funds. Did you study the merits on how long it would take to calculate “actual funding equivalent”?
  • What gets counted in these costs (which would add more administrative burden to districts needing these funds)? These costs will become harder to untangle especially as education moves towards Universal Design in its design of the curriculum and programs such as the Multi-tiered system of support. The core of this philosophy is if we account for all the characteristics of our student population; everybody benefits.
  • The notion of transparency is flawed especially since there is need to mask small counts. Given that 52 school districts meet the small school criteria (p. 24), it is highly unlikely that the transparency desired will actually be accomplishable (see Agency of Education Dashboards and note the number of hidden cells due to small counts).

Yet the real issue that the Coalition of Vermont Student Equity has with the cost equity formula is that it erodes local control. This is truly a slap to the face of all Vermonters, because essentially you told us that the state government does not trust us to take care of our children. This is highly ironic, since it was a state formula that prevented many of our school districts from educating our children in an equitable way. For the past 20 years, the state has trusted wealthy districts to make spending decisions that are best for their students and their communities. I want local control for my district as well, and it is a true Vermont value, because our community can hold our school board officials much more accountable than legislators who do not live in our district. This is why we recommend the general set of school-level weights proposed in the PWF Report authors’ October 28, 2021 memo, but we only support these weights when they include the ELL  weight. 

As a person of color, I understand your concern with low-incidence districts not being able or willing to provide resources for ELL students. I traveled the state often to attend many of the county fairs in the summer and I cringe and worry about my safety when I see people wearing shirts with the Confederate Flag. Even in a city that as diverse as Winooski, I have been made to feel like an outsider (e.g., the number of times I am asked if I am a Winooski resident even though I have introduced myself as the Winooski School Board member). Therefore, we do recommend a hybrid approach to ensure school districts with a small number of ELL students are appropriately funded. Correct the weights, and then offer additional aid to districts that educate a small number of ELL students. 

In the PWF Report authors’ October 28, 2021 memo, they write:

A categorical funding program for ELL students could be a viable policy alternative if the funding available through this program is equivalent to the cost offset that would be generated by the weight identified in Model 4

Unfortunately, the Task Force Report has not identified a methodology that provides equivalent cost offsets that would be generated by the weight. The proposed ELL categorical aid methodology in the Task Force Report is based past ELL budgets. This will only perpetuate inequities for ELL students, because the design of the formula is based on an inequitable funding formula. For example, during our budget meeting this week, I learned it would cost around $130,000 to translate all of our handbooks and policies to ensure accessibility for the parents of our ELL students. I don’t see how the categorical aid process would allow a school district to do this, but increasing our taxing capacity does give us a chance to do this. Thus, why are districts that are welcoming to immigrants, refugees, and new Americans being punished? Please do not delay the process of implementing the weights, when the work has already been completed. Not adequately funding our ELL students is not only discriminatory, but also make our goals of creating an inclusive and welcoming environment even more difficult.

The Coalition supports the move to using Free and Reduced-Price Lunch as a measure for poverty, but only if the universal form is put in place. To change this measure without using a universal form will result in a substantially undercounted poverty count, as many Free and Reduced-Price Lunch forms go unreturned because of various reasons including COVID-19 and now universal free lunch. 

Rural districts and small schools are also suffering greatly under the current, inequitable formula. The conditions of these small and rural schools and the harm they have experienced have been lost in this process. These are schools that have very specific needs to fund, funding needs that have pushed their tax-base to their breaking points. These are districts that tend have a high percentage of students living in poverty and students with disabilities. If you went and toured some of these schools, you’d be shocked. Buildings sit in disrepair; classrooms are tiny, and space is beyond limited, supplies are scarce. Teacher salaries are substantially lower and therefore it’s nearly impossible to attract and retain new staff. Why would a teacher teach at Hazen Union where the average salary is $56,652, when they could teach at South Burlington where the average teacher salary is $80,294? 

Another alarm bell that we are ringing is the impending implementation of Act 173. Act 173 cannot be implemented except in conjunction with the corrected weights. The needs of districts that have high poverty, small schools, extreme sparsity and those that educate high numbers of ELL students will face catastrophic budgeting issues should a block grant based on census be implemented without implementing the corrected weights. 

In reading the report, I started asking myself, “What happened to a government that is of the people, for the people, by the people?” In reading the reports, where are data of public opinion and endorsements from the Vermont School Board Association (VSBA)? Where is analysis of the comments to address the concerns of the public, superintendents, principals, and the Coalition for Vermont Student Equity? I appreciate you allowed us to speak, but was the Task Force listening? If you were, then these were the critical questions you needed to answer in your report:

Critical Questions to Answer:

  • What is the true philosophy behind the cost equity formula? Are we trying to be equitable from a cost perspective? Doesn’t that mean those who can afford to pay more should, because in the long term when we invest in our children, Vermont is better for it? Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case with your cost equity proposal and goes against the findings that it costs more money to educate certain types of students.
  • If you are worried about the weights hurting the over weighted districts, why not offer them categorical aid? Why is it the districts with limited resources cannot be trusted to use their taxing capacity to properly provide the equitable education their children deserve? This sounds like a double standard to me.
  • If you were worried about accountability, why not build accountability as Senator Brock as suggested?  Higher Education has been doing this for over 20 years. Yes, it may seem odd to talk about a learning outcomes audit, but a simple conversation with educational experts would have directed you to the field of learning outcomes assessment. By the way, this is part of my job duty to ensure the University of Vermont stays accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE). I am more than happy to help on this effort. But before you talk about accountability, make sure we have the capabilities to properly achieve the desirable outcomes (i.e., the weighting formula proposal gives ability to resource and the ability to plan). 
  • Why did the Task Force only examine the short-term impacts and not think about the potential long-term impacts of implementing the pupil weighting factors? For example, we know that if we do a good job of educating our students, they are more likely to stay in the community when they become adults. 

The beauty of the Coalition for Vermont Student Equity is that we stand united, because we care for all of our students. Even though there are many other things I would rather be doing with my time than studying and analyzing educational funding formulas, one of the plus sides has been working with Vermonters from all over the state fighting for educational equity. We trusted in each other’s respective expertise and lived experiences. I have also been able to hear the majority of the testimonies from the public begging the legislators to give them the ability to properly educate the children in our communities. Be brave, be bold, be courageous and provide the recommendation to implement the pupil weighting factors and remove the cost equity formula proposal. I know Vermonters will have your back.

VLCT Opposes the Task Force’s Reverse Foundation Formula (so-called Cost Equity Formula)

Excerpt from 12-10-2021 VLCT Testimony to the Task Force on the Implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report

The proposed cost equity approach in the draft report contemplates instituting categorical funding
categories to address poverty, rurality, middle and high school as well as English Language Learners. The difficulty with this approach is that each year, a new calculation would need to be made. Each year that calculation would be ripe for debate as not only cost factors change, and as the draft report mentions, the question of how much is left for base funding per pupil is debated, but also as statutory changes are made to the programs and legislative appetites for keeping financial support sufficient over time is likely to falter, particularly in lean times.

Winooski Superintendent McMannon Statement on ‘Discriminatory’ ELL Funding Proposal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Superintendent Sean McMannon, Winooski School District

“By choosing to separate/segregate ELL funding from the rest of the formula, and intentionally setting the amount at substantially less than empirical analysis says it should be, I believe this proposal results in discrimination against ELL students on the basis of national origin and language.  As the court in Brown vs Board of Education said:  “To separate students from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”  Brown, 347 U.S. at 494.  This is as true for funding schemes as it is for where students are physically educated.

Thanks to the thorough research conducted by the University of Vermont and Rutgers University in the Pupil Weighting Factors Report of 2019, we now know that we have an inequitable school funding system that causes harm to students and families who reside in districts with high percentages of poverty and with multilingual or English language learning needs. As the Pupil Weighting Factors Report clearly indicates, the current funding weights are not keeping up with the needs of our students, and do not reflect the actual costs we incorporate into our school budget.  As a result, Winooski and many other districts do not have the same opportunities as students in wealthier, more homogenous districts.

In 1997, in Brigham v. State, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the State constitution requires the provision of substantially equal educational opportunity to all students. The court declared the state’s education funding system unconstitutional because it resulted in wide disparities in per-pupil expenditures. 

I am asking the legislative task force charged with addressing this issue to get back in the lane of which they were charged and to create a plan to implement the report’s recommendations to correct the pupil weights. Should you continue to favor your model of categorical aid and weights over the empirically-based recommendations of the report authors, I fear your current position is not in compliance with current law and could represent continued harm to our most vulnerable students and families.”

Education Experts Voice their Concerns over Legislative Work on Education Funding Inequity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 30, 2021

Please contact Maggie Lenz

802-279-4262

maggie@leoninepublicaffairs.com

VERMONT EDUCATION EXPERTS VOICE THEIR CONCERNS OVER LEGISLATIVE WORK ON EDUCATION FUNDING INEQUITY

Montpelier, VT., — On Monday the Coalition for Vermont Student Equity (CVTSE) hosted The Future of Equity in Vermont Education: A Panel Discussion. The panel considered the glaring inequities in Vermont’s current funding formula and the harms that have been caused to Vermont’s most struggling communities. They also discussed the discriminatory nature of the recent proposal to remove English language learners from the equity formula and their grave concerns over the pending recommendations of the Pupil Weighting Task Force. 50 people were in attendance, and there was a question and answer period at the end. Please use this link to watch the panel.

Panelists:

Nicole Mace is the Finance Manager at the Winooski School District. She has a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master’s degree in Public Policy & Management from Carnegie Mellon University. Nicole was the General Counsel and then Executive Director of the Vermont School Boards Association from 2011-2019. She is a parent of a 5th grader at JFK Elementary School in Winooski and has been a resident of Winooski since 2009. Nicole served on the Winooski City Council from 2015-2019.

Rep. Laura Sibilia was elected in 2014 and currently serves in the Vermont House of Representatives. She is the Vice Chair of the Energy and Technology Committee. Laura has lived in Southern Vermont for more than 30 years, and has served on the Dover School Board since 2003. She was a pioneering member of the new River Valleys School District Board in 2018, and has been working on the pupil weighting issue for many years.

Rory Thibault is the current chair of the Cabot School Board of Directors and also serves on the Caledonia Central Supervisory Union Board. Rory’s school board involvement began with Cabot’s Act 46 process. He served as the primary author of the Cabot School District Alternative Governance Structure proposal, which was ultimately accepted by the State Board of Education. During his time as a board member, Rory has focused on supporting Cabot School’s innovative approaches to public education, namely the integration of project based learning into all grade levels, and most recently increased collaboration with other districts within the enlarged supervisory union. Rory is the State’s Attorney for Washington County.

Dr. Alex Yin has been serving on the Winooski School Board since 2017. While on the board, he helped pass a $57.8 million dollar bond to build and renovate school facilities for an overcrowded district. He also has been an advocate in turning the cultural liaison positions in Winooski into a year-long position to help strengthen the relationship between the New American families and the school district. Alex is the Executive Director of Institutional Research at the University of Vermont, where he is responsible for the school’s data analytics

Ted Plemenos is the Chief Financial Officer for the Rutland City Public Schools. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Public and International Affairs, and a Master’s degree in Business Administration, Ted served as a financial executive for ExxonMobil Corporation for more than 30 years. His prior experience in education finance includes serving for two years as the Director of Finance and Administration for a division of Rice University, and volunteering for several years as an advisor to the board of trustees for an elementary and a middle school.

Moderator:  Kendra Sowers, CVTSE Board Chair