The formula used by the state to distribute education funds has been wrong for over 20 years.
Districts that have received insufficient resources from the state have had to decide whether to make up for the difference by raising local taxes, beyond what their wealthy neighbors had to, or reduce services and offer subpar education.
Many low-income and rural schools are in disrepair and lack the basic services of their wealthy.
In 2019, at the request of the legislature, a report was written by a team led by UVM/Rutgers education funding research experts that definitively concluded Vermont does not properly account for the costs of educating children who attend small schools, rural schools, children who come from low-income households, or children who require English language learning services.
The legislature has had this report in hand for nearly two years, yet they still haven’t created a plan to implement the report’s recommendations, which correct the two decades old flaws.
A legislative summer task force is meeting every two weeks attempting to address this issue.
While it is a simple mathematical fix, it is politically complex.
They are looking for alternatives because correcting the weights for struggling districts means that the wealthy districts that have benefitted from this flaw for two decades will have to give up some of the extra taxing capacity that they never should have had in the first place.
The alternative to actually correcting the weights is to instead inject even more money into our heavily funded system in the form of categorical grants targeted at struggling districts for very specific uses. The Coalitions for Vermont Student Equity (CVTSE) strongly opposes the use of categorical aid in place of correcting the weights.
The legislature requested this study, and spent $300,000 of taxpayer money on it. The study has been completed for nearly two years, and its recommendations are clear. Now the legislature must take the last step and implement the corrected weights.
The UVM/Rutgers study has an empirical basis for setting the weights. Alternative proposals have no empirical basis.
The current inequity is baked into the formula. To address the inequity, the formula must be corrected.
The formula is how we map out student needs, similar to a census.
There is really no clear way to define student need without correcting the weights to reflect the actual cost of educating these differing types of learners.
Vermont has a constitutional obligation to correct the funding formula to reflect the real world costs of educating all children.
There is currently no empirical basis to determine how to establish categorical aid amounts.
Using categorical aid for a specific purpose, ELL for example, makes it extremely difficult to integrate those services, which is always the goal.
Categorical aid doesn’t address the inequity in the formula. It’s a Band-Aid at best.
Using categorical aid to try to solve this problem is akin to saying we don’t have enough money in the system, we need to add more.
We are saying there is plenty of money, but we are dealing with a distribution problem.
Some task force members have said they prefer to use categorical aid instead of correcting the weights for these struggling districts because they can then track the aid, and be assured that these districts are using the funds for the specific purpose. This premise is offensive. We do not currently police how wealthy districts spend their extra taxing capacity. We should trust struggling districts and their taxpayers to make the right choices with the resources they need.
As we know from experience, categorical aid is subject to change based on political whim. It is subject to the legislature's appropriations process. This means the grants are unreliable, and create an environment of uncertainty.
Districts need the ability to make long term plans. Because the nature of categorical aid is so unreliable, this leaves struggling districts with no ability to plan long term.
Using categorical aid instead of fixing the weights would create a separate funding system for struggling districts. This is elitist and wrong. All of our students deserve to have their needs recognized in the funding formula itself. That is what true equity is.