At the end of the last legislative session, task force members and KSE were successful in lobbying for a summer study on how education funding is allocated in Vermont.
The title of the legislative group’s report, “A case for data driven education policy,” offers a hint of their recommendation that the state collect and integrate education data “that will allow Vermonters to make meaningful, data-supported decisions about key education policy issues.”
Taylor and Sibilia said one of the things they’ve discovered through the process is that past education policy decisions haven’t been made based on data. “When the House Education Committee asked me to testify, I spoke about Twin Valley consolidation,” said Taylor. “Sometimes consolidation is good, sometimes it’s bad, but we have no data out there. There’s nothing informing legislators what is the most effective policy regarding school consolidation.”
Taylor said the state doesn’t collect any information on how education money is spent by school districts. Some of the data is collected for compliance with reporting requirements for federal education programs. But Taylor said the information is funneled straight to federal entities.
But there is a starting point for school spending analysis. If school budgets use common accounting codes, information from the budgets could flow directly to the state. Taylor said schools were already using uniform accounting codes as a requirement for receiving federal money.
“Now, there may be some problems with (sending budget information to the state),” Taylor said, referring to concerns about local control.
“But there could be some tremendous opportunities,” said Sibilia. “The Department of Education is theoretically capable of doing this, but they’re tremendously understaffed, too. So the challenge is creating the momentum and funding it in a way that can be effective.”
Taylor said collecting the data is half of the battle, the other half is creating the criteria by which to evaluate it. “The other aspect is defining equal educational opportunity,” he said. “What is a standard education that the state needs to provide? That discussion has really gotten lost.”
Selectboard member William “Buzzy” Buswell said the task force was doing a good job, and told them they should be compensated for their travel to Montpelier. But he offered little hope of any quick improvement in education. “Your problem is that it’s a political BS game, and it’s taking a lot of time.”
Buswell said supervisory unions should have data on school costs. “They do know what it costs,” said Sibilia. “That’s where they focus. But they don’t know what they’re buying. No one can tell us what’s being bought with this money. If Dover decides to tile the outside of the school with pink tile for $10 million, we’re not reporting that. Do you want to pay for someone’s $10 million pink tile project?”
“I don’t mind sending $10 million to the state of Vermont if it’s going to give a quality education to every child in the state of Vermont,” agreed Buswell, “but it’s not. It’s taking my money and spending it elsewhere for something that doesn’t have anything to do with education.”
Buswell asked about efforts to get other towns to join Dover in their support for the changes. Sibilia said lobbyists agreed that a broader coalition would help gain attention in Montpelier. “That may or may not mean other towns,” Sibilia said.
“Our cause is just, it’s just not sexy,” joked Taylor.
In other discussions, economic development assistant Linda Anelli updated the board on the creation of a Route 100 scenic byway in southern Vermont. “My cause is just, and it’s sexy,” she said. Anelli said the Route 100 scenic byway effort, started last fall, had been extremely successful, and would be the second longest scenic byway in Vermont, behind the Connecticut River byway.
The Route 100 byway will run from the state line in Stamford to the northern border of Weston. “An unbroken stretch of road, with the exception of Readsboro,” Anelli said.
Readsboro has declined to support the scenic designation for the section of road in their town, over fears that groups opposed to the expansion of the Searsburg wind generation facility could use the scenic designation to launch an appeal of the project.
Anelli said there would be a public meeting on the byway at 6:30 pm in the Londonderry Town Office, on Wednesday, March 13.