Rebecca Holcombe Calls on Legislature to Address Education Funding Inequities

Friday, January 17th, 2020


The Vermont Legislature needs to act to ensure our funding formula provides both taxpayer equity and a fair chance at a good education for every Vermont child. 

A study from the University of Vermont, presented recently to the legislature, crystallizes the problem. Our current funding scheme doesn’t reflect Vermont’s educational reality. We weight students based on their need, but “neither the factors considered by the formula nor the value of the weights reflect contemporary educational circumstances and costs.”

In other words, we’re using our education money unwisely.

The disconnect between our funding formula and educational reality has profound, real world consequences. As it now functions, our education funding formula places Vermont students who live in poverty, who are learning English (ELL), or who live in isolated rural communities at a significant disadvantage. 

This study was prepared by a respected, independent and nonpartisan research. We can‘t ignore this study, and the legislature must act.

The study also provided concrete recommendations on how to fix this problem.

I encourage the legislature to act on the UVM weighting study by:

  • Adjusting the weights and cost factors in the funding formula, to reflect actual differences in costs across school districts
  • Resisting pressure to make adjustments to the special education census block, until the legislature has had time to see how this policy works.
  • Addressing how grants can be used to provided targeted additional support where it is most needed.

We are a state that worries about the size and quality of our work force. Nevertheless, too many young Vermonters face acute challenges that will limit their capacity to participate in our civic life and economy as adults. These challenges are driven above all by lack of economic opportunity in too many communities and for too many Vermonters, who struggle as costs rise and wages stagnate. 

When we give children a fair chance, they grow up able to fill our jobs, contribute to our economy and lead our communities.

We are at a decision point:  

  • Do we believe that Vermont children who live in very disadvantaged or isolated districts deserve good educational opportunities? 
  • If not, are we willing to pay for the long term consequences when they become adults with lower economic potential and a greater need for social services? 

We must address the inequity in our funding model, because our children are paying the price. How many more generations do we want to lose before we act?

In the long run, we will all pay dearly if we fail to invest in the healthy development and learning of our youngest Vermonters. When some of our children can’t thrive, we all lose the benefit of their strong hands and able minds. The fallout from inadequate educational funding is measured in generations, not school years.

The legislature needs to act because it is the right thing to do. But it also would be wise to remember that the Brigham case, which led to the development of our current formula, demanded both taxpayer equity and substantially equal opportunity for children. We do not currently meet that second test.