Two Suggestions for Governor Scott’s Education Plans

by Rob Roper

Governor Scott shocked a lot of people with his proposals for reforming the way we pay for public education in Vermont. He deserves kudos for finally responding to property taxpayers agonized cries for relief and for his willingness to boldly start a discussion that has long been avoided in Montpelier.  Here are a couple of suggestions that could help the Governor achieve his goals.

Scott’s requests that local school boards level fund their budgets this year and that future budgets should be tied to student population, lowering funding if student count drops or rising if it increases, make sense. We should not be spending more and more every year to educate fewer and fewer students (28,000 fewer students since passage of Act 60 two decades ago!). However the logistics of pulling this off and the local politics involved is complicated.

The simple solution (logistically; by no means politically) is for the state to set a per-pupil funding rate and remit that amount to each school times the number of pupils in that school. That’s the budget. If a school loses kids, it loses money. But if it attracts students, it gains money. The role of local school boards would be to determine how best to spend that fixed amount of money.

Vermont’s 90 tuitioning towns essentially do this already (the per pupil allocation is about $14,300), and this is how independent schools’ budgets are set. They seem to be doing well.

Given that Scott’s reforms will no doubt put some serious financial pressure on schools it is only fair that the schools be granted additional flexibility to be creative in how they respond to the challenges. This I did not hear in Scott’s speech, but would encourage him to consider granting more latitude in areas of hiring and firing, etc. to allow local boards and principals to be more creative problem solvers.

The State Board of Education is currently considering rules that will reduce flexibility for independent schools. Perhaps they should reverse course and start relaxing restrictions for public schools.

The future of education in Vermont will require flexibility, creativity, and adaptability. We need to reform the system so that it can thrive despite rapidly changing demographics, technologies, and skill sets required to succeed in the global economy.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Bulmer January 28, 2017 at 1:56 pm

If the NEA does not sign on, where will this go? That being asked, at last we’re hearing proposas that are deang with the issues.

Reply

Margaret Sunderland January 28, 2017 at 3:00 pm

It’s time for taxpayers to support Governor Scott and defeat school budgets across the state. We’ve been complaining about high taxes for too long, without committing to do anything about it.

Reply

Mary Evslin January 28, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Excellent ideas and kudos to Governor Scott for his creative and responsive thinking. Mary

Reply

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