Once again the legislature appears poised to miss another opportunity to address the real reason behind rising education costs.
The real problem with Act 60 is that it gives economic incentives for large schools to spend more money. This has been the fatal flaw in the funding formula and is the one that has caused educational funding to skyrocket over the past 15 years.
Act 60, falsely points to small schools with higher per pupil costs as being inefficient and lauded those with low student costs as being efficient. The law fails to take into account the fact that economies of scale are what make the large schools seem efficient and assumes that because small schools have higher fixed costs per student that they were not using their tax dollars well.
Local taxpayers only pay a very tiny fraction of the cost when a large school district decides to incur additional educational expenses that are below the state average. This has resulted in one of the biggest tax incentives for large school districts to spend money that has ever existed in this or any other state. As a result, the state has seen an enormous rise in education costs since the inception of Act 60. These large “efficient” school districts have accounted for over 93% of the increases in education funding since the inception of Act 60. When you adjust for inflation, that rate approaches 100% of the increase in educational spending going to large schools. They are basically chasing the state average up and are encouraged to spend more and more each year.
In illustration, large schools with lower costs due to economies of scale are trying to decide whether to add a fifth or sixth language (because they can do it for no local cost) while small efficiently run schools with higher fixed costs are trying to decide if they can keep art, music or a second language in their curriculums.
Our state government needs to look at how the money is being spent, not how to continuously give out more of it to large school districts that are not necessarily being run efficiently. It is currently on a track to put small school districts out of business by allowing large school districts to run away with extraneous spending.
Small community schools are the heart and soul of many small Vermont communities. This law continues to have a devastating effect on the social fabric of Vermont’s small towns. If this problem is not fixed immediately the only course for towns to take will be another court case because the current funding formula does not meet the court’s mandate as established by the Brigham Decision.
Edward C. Metcalfe, Jr.