Sibilia & Sims: Change the school funding formula to help children and taxpayers

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Sibilia & Sims: Change the school funding formula to help children and taxpayers

Sun, 08/23/2020 - 5:53am -- tim

by Laura Sibilia & Katherine Sims For the last twenty years, our public education system has overtaxed and underfunded schools in Vermont’s rural and poor towns. According to the Pupil Weighting Factors Report commissioned by the legislature to study equity in Vermont's Education Funding Formula, we incentivize spending less on students who cost more to educate and more on students who cost less to educate. Over the past 20 years, this has resulted in fewer opportunities and increased costs for poor and rural schools and higher taxes for Vermonters.

Despite the best efforts of our school boards, the chronic underfunding has stretched budgets to an extreme and left our schools with challenges like long overdue building maintenance issues, a lack of Pre-K slots, and fewer opportunities for advanced classes and study abroad programs to name just a few. 

Prior to the pandemic, we joined with Vermonters from districts with high poverty, districts with high ELL needs, and other rural districts to demand action from the legislature this year. We faced a legislative body unwilling to act with urgency due in part to the tax implications in an election year for large wealthy school districts who have been over-accessing state education dollars for decades.

Now with the COVID-19 crisis, these same high poverty and rural communities are experiencing new challenges. For example, most of the schools in our districts will struggle to afford HVAC systems that would help make indoor schooling safer in the fall or added counselors to meet the social, emotional and behavioral needs of students. These same students throughout rural Vermont are impacted by the lack of access to broadband internet. These challenges have a real, lasting impact on the lives of Vermont kids.

We know parents, teachers and administrators are working overtime to make really difficult choices. We know that the Agency of Education is working with Superintendents and boards to address urgent issues for reopening including the numbers of student days, State aid and HVAC funding, staffing, childcare, and broadband connectivity. We also know there is a shared understanding that, despite Herculean efforts, inequities will worsen as a result of the pandemic. We can not simply accept further deterioration of opportunity for some students. Legislators must act in the coming session to acknowledge the worsening of existing inequities, to show we understand that our students with the least means are being asked to give up even more during the pandemic, and to let those students and their communities know that help is on the way. 

For too long, Vermont’s vulnerable students, those who need the most support, have been penalized for where they live. This crisis requires an urgent response to ensure equitable resources for all. If the legislature fails to address the systemic issues outlined in the Weighting Factors report, there will certainly be legal action, and that will further delay addressing the inequity we are actively ignoring. To avoid further harm after twenty years of inequity in school resources, the General Assembly must take action during this upcoming session to implement the weighting recommendations contained in the Pupil Weighting Factors Report. We must act now to ensure that all Vermont children, no matter where they live, have equal opportunity to thrive. 

We encourage all those engaged in Vermont’s educational community, and particularly those in poor and rural districts, to contact their legislators and demand action on behalf of our students and taxpayers.

Laura H Sibilia is an Independent Vermont State Representative for Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham. Katherine Sims (Democratic) is running for election to the Vermont House to represent Orleans-Caledonia District.
 

SUMMARY OF ISSUES RELATED TO COVID-19 AND SCHOOL REOPENING IDENTIFIED IN THE NEK and SO. Vermont 

 

DATE: August 11, 2020
 
  1. Weighting Study -  Urgent action is vitally important. Small schools grants should be granted automatically until the Weighting study recommendations are in place. The current distribution system based on merger is inequitable and discriminatory.
  2. Decision Making Timeline - Districts need to understand timeline for any future funding decisions
  3. ADM - Schools should be held harmless for kids they are losing to homeschooling. “Hold the floor” for kids in district that are homeschooling, not moving out. Increased populations should count.
  4. Student Days - Schools need 10 student days waived. 
  5. ESSER Funds  - State aid revenue should not be reduced because schools will get ESSER funds. Schools need clear guidance on this ASAP. 
  6. Staffing -  Potential staffing crisis could close schools before Covid does. This is an unfolding issue which could have a big impact on how or if schools function. Ideas to address this are: 
    1. Emergency certifications particularly for sped and other areas
    2. Licensing waivers
    3. Use of Americorp volunteer in schools
    4. Hiring permanent substitutes
    5. Emergency certification for almost graduating education students
    6. Emergency certification for adjunct college faculty who are now unemployed 
    7. Teachers should be able to transfer their children to the school district they are teaching in so parents and children have the same schedules. $ should follow the child in these cases.
    8. Early retirement option for teachers over 60 
  7. Statewide Childcare Responses -
    1. START UP GRANTS -  for PK /Childcare programs in school buildings.
    2. PK students on the NH border should be able to access PK in NH if no PK is VT is within traveling distance. The $ for 10 hours per week should be available in these circumstances.
    3. Directing some funds to local childcare programs, or subsidizing families who want to access childcare. 
    4. Allow families tuition free ability to have children of teachers go to the teacher/parent's school of work / attend the school
  8. Broadband - Students who have no access should not be forgotten and could work in school buildings or local libraries remotely on the days they are not in school if that could be facilitated.  
  9. HVAC - More funding specifically for HVAC systems is needed.
  10. Mental Healthcare Guidance - Students, staff, boards and families