Vt. task force takes public comment on school finance reform

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) – A legislative task force looking at school finance reform options took…

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) – A legislative task force looking at school finance reform options took comments from the public during a hearing Wednesday.

Right now, the state distributes money based on criteria including the number of students and their characteristics in a per-pupil system. The task force is looking at two options. The first is to modify the current per-pupil system and the other is categorical aid.

The per-pupil system considers economic disadvantage, English-language learners, and disabilities among students. Categorical aid would mean funds are given to schools on an as-needed basis for specific purposes.

The per-pupil system of weighting hasn’t been updated in more than 20 years. It’s the job of this task force to review possible changes and present a report to the Legislature. During Wednesday’s hearing, everyone who gave comments agreed re-weighting would be the way to go.

Cabot School Board Chair Roy Thibault says the current weighting negates challenges rural communities face, so they don’t receive the funding they need to keep up with them.

“Nearly 25% of our students receive special services,” he explained. “This is the impact of rural poverty, adverse childhood experiences and other factors that impact rural Vermonters throughout the state.”

Burlington School Board member Jean Waltz says re-weighting would help groups that face more social and economic barriers in education.

“Data shows our financially stable white students thrive, compared to students living in poverty or living in a rural area,” she said.

No one at Wednesday’s meeting was against re-weighting the current system, but districts with more white and middle-income students might receive less.

In an email, South Burlington School Committee Chair Bridget Burkhardt said the amount of funding they receive per pupil would likely go down. Burkhardt said she’s worried that if the Legislature votes to re-weight pupils and redistribute funds, they will have to face a decision to raise property taxes or reduce school programming.

The task force proceedings on Wednesday can be viewed here, and they will be holding another public hearing on the topic on October 20th.

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Task force works to rethink education funding in Vermont

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