by Alexander Darr
On January 14th at St. Michael’s college senators and representatives from the state legislature met to discuss educational finance reforms. There were quite of few people there, including the Governor (although he didn’t stay very long), House Speaker Shap Smith, and Pro-Tempore John Campbell.
Framing the issue of educational finance was Lawrence Picus, a consultant for the state. He and his group have put together a 299 page document evaluation of the state’s education finance system. You can find it on the state’s website, but I recommend the executive summary, which is only 19 pages. www.leg.state.vt.us/JFO/Education RFP Page/Picus and Assoc VT Finance Ex Sum. 1-18-2012.pdf
The state’s education budget is about $1.49 billion, and there are about 89,000 students enrolled in the PK-12 system of the state. Per pupil spending is among the highest in the nation, but part of that can be explained by declining enrollments. Per pupil spending is also high due to the increasing number of teachers. Some interesting facts came up in the Symposium.
- State and local revenues for K-12 education increased by almost 83.7% between FY 2001 and FY 2012 (NEA Rankings and Estimates, 2011)
- Vermont’s per pupil spending is 50% higher than Massachusetts and New Hampshire’s, but overall all three states are very close in student standardized tests scores.
- New Hampshire, has over twice the population of Vermont, a roughly equal geographic area, yet has half as many school districts as Vermont. More school districts mean more administrators and paper pushers.
One more fact, this one not mentioned a the symposium, but in the Picus Report.
- Vermont has experienced the second greatest percentage decrease in student population (18.1%) over the time frame of the Picus study. Only North Dakota has had a greater decline
We have a combination of bad things here: costs have increased 83%, educational outcomes have remained flat, and student population is down. The numbers speak for themselves.
A term that kept coming up in the symposium was “adverse incentives” created as a result of Act 60. One presenter at the symposium mentioned an extreme case, (at least I think it’s extreme…) in which a school district needed to raise only 30 cents locally for every dollar in education spending they received. These districts are playing with other people’s money. It also means that districts like that are shielded from increases in spending; they won’t be affected as harshly as other districts. They don’t have as much “skin in the game”.
One school superintendent who was present told a story about his school board, which had succeeded in cutting costs, and it’s neighbors who had voted to raise spending. The outcome was that taxes were raised on all districts. Act 60 creates an educational finance system that tries to equalize educational opportunity, but does so by ignoring differences between the school districts.