The exchange took place during a legislative update sponsored by the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce. It came shortly after Bishop had finished listing a litany of legislative issues the state chamber would be working on during the upcoming 2013 legislative session, set to begin in early January.
Having been handed the floor to speak, Manwaring jumped up, very animated and chided Bishop, and the chamber, for not having property tax reform and education funding on the short list of issues affecting businesses in the state. Manwaring, as many may know, has been a tireless champion for changing the way Vermont pays for education. That is currently the funding formulas created by Act 60 and Act 68. She has been a major force in the Legislature, and with a local study committee, in getting discussion going about how much value Vermont is getting for the dollars spent on primary and secondary education .
Bishop replied that, while property tax increases to help fund education are detrimental to business profitability, education funding reform just isn’t something that is on the radar screen of most legislators and advocacy groups in the Statehouse. “No one in the Legislature discusses the issue,” said Bishop.
Those words tell the uphill battle that will be faced by those seeking changes to the way Vermont pays for its schools.
We think Manwaring and the others who are involved in the education study group, including the towns of Wilmington and Dover, are on the right track. We have said as much in this space in the past. We also know it’s been difficult to gain any traction in the Statehouse, in part because education funding has become a “third rail” in Vermont politics. For politicians to take on education funding reform, it will require chaning the way dollars are distributed and accounted for, and that means rocking the boat for many voters, including those in large population centers where large numbers of votes are concentrated.
It won’t be easy to affect change. But, as Manwaring said, someone has to raise the heat. It’s been almost 16 years since Act 60 first became law. Again, as Manwaring said, it’s not just about winners and losers.
The state’s leaders need to take a long, hard, and realistic look beyond the money to see the effects the law has had on many of the state’s communities.
Only then can change come about.