Gov. Scott’s 5-year school funding plan gets mixed response from education community

Gov. Phil Scott has unveiled a five-year plan to fill the state’s $58 million education fund deficit and revitalize the state’s education system by generating approximately $300 million in savings over the next five years.

U.S. Department of State

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott

According to the governor’s office, the plan reverses “deficit growth and stabilizes education tax rates” and will be used to provide more tax relief and expand educational opportunities, like early childhood care and vocational-technical education, without raising taxes.

Scott plans to use funds from the tobacco settlement, surplus state revenues, and other sources to refill the $58 million gap for one year. If lawmakers do nothing, Vermonters will face a 5-cent to 7-cent increase in property taxes in the year ahead.

“It is essential that we move forward together to prevent a $58 million statewide property tax rate increase this year, address reoccurring deficits in the education fund and generate $300 million in savings to more and better educational options for kids, as well as lower tax rates,” Scott said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Vermont NEA opposes the plan and says about 2,000 teachers and paraeducators could lose their jobs across the state as part of the means to generate savings. The Scott administration a reduction of about 1,000 teaching and paraprofessional staff  jobs over a five-year timeframe.

In a memo sent to legislators Tuesday, Scott announced his “The Five-Year Education Revitalization, Tax Stabilization and Investment Plan.”

“We all share a goal to provide our kids with the best education possible and have committed tremendous resources to K-12 education,” Scott said. “The challenge lies in consistently declining enrollment and an old and inefficient infrastructure, which is diverting investments away from kids and causing taxes to increase at unsustainable rates. Vermont has great schools and teachers and delivers quality education to our students. But we can do better, and this plan will help us achieve our goals.”

Scott spokesperson Rebecca Kelley on Tuesday stressed that the plan fully funds the school budgets local voters have approved for next year and “sets Vermont on a stable and predictable five-year trajectory allowing local school districts to take full advantage of the governance changes made under Act 46.” She also said the plan closes the fiscal year 2019 education fund gap and prevents future deficits.

While Scott’s plan is intricate, it is designed to address a number of critical issues highlighted in Tuesday’s news release:

Our K-12 infrastructure was built for more than 100,000 kids. Enrollment has declined to 76,000 in the last twenty years – a decline of about 27,000 students. We spend $1.8 billion to educate these 76,000 students. The U.S. Department of Education predicts Vermont student count will drop below 70,000 by 2026. Vermont’s school employee staff-to-student ratio has shrunk to 4.25 to 1 – the lowest in the nation. Slightly increasing this ratio would produce tens of millions in savings while keeping our ratio among the lowest in the nation. And this can be achieved through attrition (retirement and voluntary departures).

From 2006-2015 (years with most comparable and available education and healthcare spending data), spending per equalized pupil grew at a faster rate than growth in healthcare costs. According to the National Education Association, in the 2015-16 school year, Vermont’s per pupil expenditure was $23,557, over $2,000 more per pupil than New York who spent the second most. This compares to a national average of $11,787 per pupil. Looking at the ‘National Assessment of Educational Progress‘, Vermont students performed about 2 percentage points better than the national average. Yet Vermont’s per-pupil spending is double the national average

Quality versus affordability

Reaction to Scott’s plan seems to fall mostly along party lines, with some educators expressing concerns about the plan.

James Callahan, former principal of the Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury and a former member of the Middlebury School Board, said that he’s skeptical about the plan’s aim to  improve education quality.

“Vermonters want to see the quality of education improve, just as Gov. Scott said, but the plan is lame,” Callahan said. “He provides nothing substantial that will actually improve how kids learn. His plan is focused on saving the taxpayer and I understand all that.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Public domain

Gov. Scott’s five-year education plan: “We all share a goal to provide our kids with the best education possible and have committed tremendous resources to K-12 education.”

He added that he didn’t see “one blessed thing in this five-year plan that will improve education quality,” or make education more affordable.

“The governor said that ‘Vermont has great schools’ — no, it does not, Vermont does not have great schools,” Callahan said. “The Smarter Balance (test) indicator shows that 60 percent of our students can’t become proficient [in math]. How can 60 percent not get us there and then we hear we have quality education?”

Callahan stressed that while the quality issue is of greater concern to him, the affordability issue and how the state funds education is critical, too. He said the state should “make clear curriculum plans for each school that adhere to the desires of the state … locate resources to teach the plan, [and] use monitors to see that the teaching is really happening and that we’ve trained our teachers well in the subject and the plan.”

“[But] not in [a mish mash of] classroom programs that are being used, such as ‘Bridges in Mathematics,’ a Pre-K–5 curriculum, among others. Teachers are trained in following these program books, but they really aren’t trained in the math.”

In addressing the affordability issue, Callahan said schools have been hesitant in reducing staff. “As you keep increasing the number of people in education you can’t possibly reduce costs,” he said.

Vermont NEA

Darren Allen, spokesperson for the Vermont National Education Association — the union of educators and professionals who teach in the state’s public school system — said that his organization is looking at the governor’s five-year plan with skepticism.

He said he is focused on several aspects of the Scott plan that affect all union members.

“We figure about 2,000 unionized jobs would be eliminated under Gov. Scott’s plan,” Allen said. “The plan presents a lot of challenges and it’s not appropriate.”

He also said that the health care aspects of the governor’s plan are unacceptable to the union.

“On the issue of health care for Vermont NEA members, we’d like to see the creation of a statewide health care commission to design and administer health benefits for all of Vermont’s public school employees,” he said.

“With last year’s proposal by the Vermont School Boards Association and Gov. Scott to strip local school boards of their ability to negotiate directly with their local educators over health insurance, Vermont NEA has taken this step to give school employees a greater voice in their health care. … And unless strong reform measures are pursued and achieved by school employees and school boards to bring down the irrationally high costs of health care, Vermont’s public school employees will continue to see health care become less affordable.”

Despite the differences, Allen said that there is room for compromise between all parties involved in any plans for public education, including compromise on layoffs, health care and other issues.

“To be frank,” Allen added, “it’s easy to see why Gov. Scott wants to get rid of a 5-cent property tax increase. It’s an election year.”

Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at lvinvt@gmx.com.

Images courtesy of State of Vermont, U.S. Department of State and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Public domain
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5 thoughts on “Gov. Scott’s 5-year school funding plan gets mixed response from education community

  1. Why to we persist in getting stuck-up in this Uncle Remus tar-baby? The more we fight it, the more stuck-up in the political mess we become. Education is personal. Take politics out of the equation. Give all parents a School Choice voucher and let them choose the school that best meets the needs of their children at the lowest cost. Let the educators hash out their differences between themselves. If they do a good job, parents will support them with their voucher.

  2. The cost of the school system is inversely correlated to educational result.
    Refuse to deal with the union and problem is solved.

  3. A lot of it has nothing to do with education or The Children. The real estate industry and home owners want other people to subsidize their marketing agenda which includes being able to sell the small town school as part of the value in buying a house in Happyville Vermont.

    The fact the news is full of 20 somethings being arrested who where the most pampered generation ever should be enough proof intelligent people need to conclude the schools aren’t solving social problems which would include solving economic opportunity.

    Enrollment is down 40% where I live and there isn’t even talk about closing an elementary school while they work at keeping a high school from actually being closed.

    The delusional thinking behind America’s schools is truly bizarre and to watch Vermont piss away over $1 billion year after year while housing has serious problems is mind boggling. The whole process is fueled by frightened emotional basket cases and delusional dreamers defending a system that produces poor results and wastes tons of money.

    It’s rather amusing to watch supposedly educated people fending and clinging to a dysfunctional system instead of working to change things and build a better future for the following generations.

    After decades of {{ It’s for The Children }} and looking at todays McJob’s problem, student debt problem, drug problem which is ghetto like it takes a special kind of stupid to not conclude what is being done has failed. If education was the answer to societies problems there should be signs education is solving societies problems by now. People emotionally involved will defend what they have cheered on while people feasting off the spending will defend their racket. People terrified for their children’s future will cheer on the spending because they don’t want their children joining the section 8 food stamp army working McJobs if they don’t end up druggies and or in prison.

    There is nothing Progressive about clinging to a 100 year old system created by the Robber Barons & Banking Class to keep the peasants in their place so the rich don’t have to compete in the FREE Market they tell the peasants about yet they want no part of.

    The republicans got the white house & both houses of congress and 18 months after winning the 2016 election they have manged to give tax breaks to billionaires and people are confused why democrats keep getting elected ? It should be easy to figure out when people see the democrats as the lessor of two evils.

  4. How can production/outcome, which is students and graduating students, continue to decrease, while at the same time production costs, which is teachers and support/administration, continue to increase and a bunch of supposedly responsible people continue to load on the cost side.
    Let’s get back to reality and stop talking and do something about it instead.
    The teachers union and their members should be ashamed of themselves. The suggested reduction in headcount can probably almost be handled through normal attrition and normal retirement.
    Let’s be realistic and get Vermont’s education system back into today’s world before more of those of us who get loaded with more taxes vote with out feet. My toes are already facing the border…
    I’m totally supporting our governor on this one.

  5. Gov. Scott’s 5-year school funding plan gets mixed response from education community ,
    that’s hard to believe , have they ever agreed to any savings, nope they spend, spend
    we need more , more, more ??

    Now here comes the ” Scare Tactics ” from the NEA , Vermont NEA opposes the plan and
    says ” about ” 2,000 teachers and para-educators ” could lose ” their jobs across the state
    as part of the means to generate savings ??

    From what I’ve seen over inflated Salaries and Golden Benefit plans and then they have the
    the audacity to go on strike because they don’t think there yearly raise wasn’t enough !!

    Name one other employer, not counting the Government that gives ” every ” employee
    a raise ” every ” year when the statistics show test scores are down and the enrollment
    is down but they keep asking for more , they should be fired starting at the top ??

    The Teachers Union has no shame, won’t agree to any changes , I hope Governor Scott
    holds there feet to the fire, but I have my doubt as I seen him ” flip flop ” just last month
    so his words mean nothing !!

    If jobs are lost so be it , most tax payer are sick of carrying these slugs. Hey tax payers
    how many raises have received in the past 5 years and what percentage and what are
    you paying for Medical ……………..We should all be this lucky !!

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