McClaughry: Struggling to feed and discipline the ‘system’

By John McClaughry

Over the past six weeks the House Ways and Means Committee has diligently worked to produce a coherent bill to shift Education Fund spending from some people and districts to other people and districts, and erect a disincentive to excessive school district spending. This is a very intricate and difficult task that, frankly, probably 90 percent of the legislators don’t readily understand.

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Its proposals have included lowering school property tax rates in 2020, changing the parameters in the school property tax determination formula, eliminating the income sensitivity program that lets 70 percent of Vermonters pay school taxes on the basis of their incomes, creating a new $59 million income tax education surcharge, and putting every school district into what up to now has been punitive excess spending territory.

Just reciting this abbreviated list illustrates how difficult it is to find a solution to educational finance that will satisfy even a bare majority of House and Senate members, plus the governor.

Maybe it’s time for the governor and legislators to step back and examine why Vermont’s K-12 education costs per pupil ($18,066) are the fourth highest in the nation. Four of the reasons are easily understood. Vermont has the nation’s lowest student-to-staff ratio (4.8 to 1), an oversupply of small schools and small classes, universal pre-K that can claim little or no lasting educational value, and an enormous expenditure per pupil for special education services.

But beyond addressing these, we need to recognize that since 1971 we have steadily created a more centralized and expensive public school system. Maybe we should be looking for a new 21st century model.

Two early efforts at this were the Schoolchildren First and Education Freedom District proposals of 2001. The latter proposed to loosen the leash on districts interested in moving in more creative directions. Citizens could choose to opt their district out of the state-controlled public education system in favor of a new locally-controlled system characterized by competition, parental choice, opportunity, diversity of educational experience and responsiveness to local citizens and voters.

Among the opportunities available to the new district would be:

· exemption from state mandates and required supervisory overhead (except for civil rights and financial accountability)

· parental choice, with educational funding paid out to parents for use in public, charter, alternative, parochial, work-study or other educational programs

· voter approval of two district school budgets, one presented by the district school board covering non-instructional costs, and the other presented by the teachers union, covering costs relating to the union contract

· allowing home-schoolers to take selected classes, make use of library resources and participate in extracurricular activities at public schools

· apprenticeship and community work-study alternatives to classroom instruction

· exempting teachers from state certification requirements, and offering them merit pay

· nationally recognized subject matter tests for students (such as ACT)

· contracting for instruction, maintenance and management

· creating Florida-style McKay Scholarships for special education students.

The idea behind the EFDs was to allow pioneering districts do creative things so that others would be motivated to do the same. Despite promotion by the chair of the House Education Committee, the “education stakeholders” killed the EFS bill in committee.

Eight years later the report of the Commission on Rebalancing Education Cost and Value found that “a policy of creating an ever-enlarging ‘system,’ populated with thousands of teachers, administrators and bureaucrats, controlling the annual expenditure of $1,450 million taxpayer dollars, jealously protective of the benefits enjoyed by the people employed in the ‘system,’ and dismissive of the abilities and preferences of parents and children, is a policy headed off in a totally wrong direction. … What is insupportable is the continuing and ever growing extraction of well over a billion tax dollars each year, to buy overpriced and undistinguished educational outcomes for Vermont children who need ever-better outcomes to live and compete in the 21st century.”

Not surprisingly, the education stakeholders wanted no part of the commission’s recommendations, because accepting many of them would threaten to disrupt their comfortable near-monopoly arrangement.

So today’s legislators valiantly soldier on, trying to make a different collection of taxpayers feed the system and create more powerful disincentives to excessive school district spending. At the same time the governor, rightly concerned with “cost containment,” seems to lean toward doing that by creating a Great Big Hammer to beat school districts into submission.

But wait a minute – maybe the overgrown public school system itself is the problem.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Images courtesy of Flickr/ and John McClaughry

2 thoughts on “McClaughry: Struggling to feed and discipline the ‘system’

  1. John,

    Several out of control beasts devour our tax dollars.

    Renewable energy

    The only way to contain them is the CAP STATE EXPENSES and eliminate state mandates and programs.

    A carbon tax would feed renewable energy on steroids.

    Senator Bray of Vermont does not get it. He announced he wants to eliminate the sales tax on the first $30,000 cost of buying an EV. He wants to SHIFT the burden of sales taxes from a few upscale-income buyers of electric vehicles onto all other taxpayers. That means upscale-income people benefit at the expense of others.

    This means 1) an $1800 saving for the upscale-income buyers, 2) the state having less revenue and 3) the state having bigger CHRONIC deficits, and 4) other taxpayers paying more. There is no free lunch, except in LaLaLand.

    Legislators like Bray have been giving away the store to please RE constituents for at least a decade.
    Did Vermont’s annual CO2 decrease due to all these RE giveaways these last 10 years? No!
    Throw more money at it? Oh yes, says Bray and other legislators.
    All the hyping about reducing CO2 to “save the world” was just for the benefit of RE interests and to bamboozle the long-suffering Vermonters.

    Legislators sponsoring carbon taxes likely have near-zero experience designing energy systems and the economic impacts of their mandates. About 25 Democrat legislators just get on the carbon tax bandwagon with their Essex Plan and rah-rah along.

    – Legislators and Vermonters have no idea how much has been given away in terms of tax credits, subsidies, accelerated write offs, surcharges and fees by various energy bills and mandates over the years.
    – No rational central accounting exists. The numbers are all spread over the place, likely on purpose.
    – Almost nothing it properly vetted and exposed to the public.
    – The state auditor likely knows about some of it, but apparently ignores it.
    – VT-DPS, GMP and hired consultants agree, behind closed doors, to give GMP very generous 9+% return on assets, PLUS a 5% rate increase for 2018, with more such increases to follow in 2019, 2020, etc. These RE build-outs are soooo expensive.

    The RE shenanigan factor is much bigger than the $200 million EB-5 fraud (the largest ever in the US), and $200 million healthcare website fiascos.

    When recurring revenue gaps occur, legislators and bureaucrats pretend to have not a clue as to how that came about.

    A unilateral carbon tax, $240 to $300 million PER YEAR, would further aggrandize state government, would raise the ante of foolish spending by about a factor of 3 – 4, and increase social discord.

    Vermont Lagging Behind Other NE States: Vermont has been sliding backwards regarding economic growth, compared to other NE states during 2012-2016, because of various expensive follies, such as:

    – The huge adverse impact of all the state mandated, expensive, subsidized renewables
    – The state usurping dominance in centralizing control of education, instead of local control of education
    – Socialist-style experimenting with healthcare systems
    – Vermont having a bloated, inefficient government that suffocates the private sector.

    These follies have become an increasing headwind that further reduces the near-zero, real-growth of the anemic Vermont economy.

  2. “$2 million in cuts to a $198 million grant program in the Agency of Human Services that funds 686 nonprofit programs”

    {The System} is all about the government funding Good Paying Jobs for the politically connected.

    The real trickle down economics is the government funding of good paying jobs so very affluent households go out and spend money on McMansions built by lots of construction workers and people with lots of money fuel the service industry jobs as they shop, go out to eat, buy cars, go on vacations, hire people to do everything for them because most have little ability so need other people to take care of them and they get the money from the government funding the jobs they are grossly overpaid for.

    It would be interesting to see the end result of the government cutting out all social services and education spending. The economy would crash and make the 1930’s look like the good old days.

    The irony of rich old guys crying about how things are after a life time of benefiting from {The System} they don’t like is funny. Too add to it they stay in Vermont of all places which has been known as very liberal and high taxes for decades. Looks more like RINO’s faking opposition to {The System} so people upset with it think there is opposition.

    Eliminate tons of government funding that pays for government funded jobs and the economy would worse than the 1930’s. We have been living off government stimulus for generations and living off borrowed money.

    Bring on a Carbon Tax, FREE Health Care and spare no expense on schools and fund tons of FREE Food, build low income housing by creating another NEW DEAL for the 21st Century of No American Left Behind. It will work fine until there is nothing left to steal from other people or we can have Robber Baron Economics until the little people all go Galt after John D. Rockefeller takes every last penny from the peasants and wins The Monopoly Game. He can jump up and down he won only to watch the little people kick over the game board.

    Seeing Yuppism crash and burn might be amusing.

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