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Nicole Mace – CVTSE Press Conference 9/30/2021

Statement of Nicole MaceWinooski School District

Good morning. My name is Nicole Mace and I am the Finance Manager for the Winooski School District. In 1997, in Brigham v. State, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the Vermont constitution requires the State to provide substantially equal educational opportunity to all students.

The Brigham Court wrote that “…the right to education is so integral to our constitutional form of government, and its guarantees of political and civil rights, that any statutory framework that infringes upon the equal enjoyment of that right bears a…heavy burden of justification…The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence.”

Since 1997, Vermont’s courts and legislature have committed to delivering more equitable access to educational resources to Vermont students. The UVM Study on Pupil Weighting Factors clarified that we have more work to do in that regard. That work is now left to the legislature, which has charged a Task Force with developing an implementation response to that report. This work is inherently challenging for elected officials, as equity often requires redistributing resources, and we are appreciative of their efforts to develop a plan to move us forward.

The UVM Study on Pupil Weighting Factors clarified the extent of the gap between the resources available to Winooski students and their needs. The report states: “Students come to school with dissimilar learning needs and socioeconomic backgrounds that may require different types and levels of educational supports for them to achieve common standards or outcomes.”

In the Winooski School District, 62% of our students live in poverty. 33% of our students are multilingual learners. 27% of our students qualify for special education services. The current funding weights are not keeping pace with the needs of our students and do not reflect the actual costs we incorporate into our local budget on an annual basis.

In districts like Winooski, where we have chronically underfunded our schools over many years, building up staffing to better meet the needs of students is a multi-year endeavor. The current weights do not give us the flexibility to make staffing investments we know we need to make, because enrollment numbers fluctuate and there is no index in the weights to reflect increased costs in wages and benefits.

The pandemic clearly illuminated the dire need for greater investments to better serve our students and their families. Winooski made the difficult decision to invest federal COVID funds in increased staffing and interventionists in order to meet the needs of our students. Use of one-time funds to staff programs is inherently risky, but the needs of our students and families are so substantial that we felt we must use the funds the way they were intended – to support vulnerable populations in our community.

Categorical aid for students with increased needs is an inherently inequitable approach
for the following reasons:

○ It subjects funding for high needs districts to a political and uncertain process – this shifts the burden and risk to marginalized communities that have been underfunded for decades, as opposed to shared risk and responsibility across all districts.
○ Because the amount of categorical aid would be unknown year to year, staffing would be subject to greater instability, which may discourage teachers from taking positions in high poverty schools, greater disadvantaging districts like Winooski
○ Categorical aid would mean a tax increase for everyone. Even underweighted districts like WSD would have to contribute taxes into categorical aid, which otherwise should have been taxing capacity free and clear from the corrected weights.

I would like to close with the definition of equity in the model equity policy currently being adopted by school districts across Vermont, which in part states:

“ Equity means that each student receives the resources and educational opportunities
they need to learn and thrive…Equity goes beyond formal equality where all students are treated the same. Achieving equity may require an unequal distribution of resources and services.”

The Winooski School District is calling upon the Task Force to develop a plan to implement the recommendations of the UVM Pupil Weighting Factors report in order to ensure that our funding formula distributes resources equitably to all students. Thank you.