Nationally, civil union and gay marriage laws may have garnered more ink. In state, Act 250, the environmental land use permit process, may have a more vilified track record. But nothing has redistributed money around the state quite like our education funding formulas. Everyone is touched by them, every property in every town affected by them.
That’s why it’s important to continue the work currently underway. As we reported in last week’s edition, the towns of Wilmington and Dover have enacted a two-pronged strategy to put into perspective the effects Act 60/Act 68 have had on schools and towns in Vermont.
The first prong was to commission a study, which found among other things that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine how education funds are being spent in school districts across the state and if that spending meets the requirements of “substantially equal education” as envisioned in 1997.
The second prong has been to hire a lobbying firm to work the halls of the Statehouse to make legislators aware of the results of the study, and the negative impacts of acts 60 and 68.
Yes, studies are often seen as boring. They don’t often lead to catchy sound bites or telegenic photo opportunities. Often, a heated argument over the merits of a law or bill is what grabs the headlines.
Too often arguments end up being based on emotion, conjecture, or belief. That has many times been the case when debates over the merits of education funding have cropped up among various proponents and opponents.
Numbers, data, whatever you want to call it, either back up those beliefs or disprove them. Even the most media-savvy politicians can be pragmatists when faced with compelling numbers, and that appears to be what the study is providing. The study’s results have created some movement to change course, to really try and get a handle on what all this money being redirected to Vermont schools is doing. That, in the monolithic way government sometimes moves, is a sea change.
Despite what some might hope for, Act 60 and Act 68 are not going to be repealed. There is no silver bullet to save the day. No pending lawsuit that will overturn the acts. There will be no return to the way things were before 1997.
The best way to affect change is at the legislative level, to change the current funding laws for the better. We may be seeing the beginning stages of such change.
That’s why we applaud what has happened as a result of the Dover/Wilmington effort. It has shown itself to be the right course of action.
We urge those involved to stay the course, to continue funding the lobbying effort, and continue to gather data.
The current approach may not be as sexy as a lawsuit. It may not offer the courtroom drama or photo op moment. But the process is good politics. And that, more than anything else, is what will drive change in Vermont’s education funding formulas.