Governor signs student equity bill into law, four others

Vermont Business Magazine Governor Phil Scott announced action on the following bills, passed by the General Assembly.

On May 23, Governor Scott signed bills of the following titles:

  • S.122, An act relating to the required votes of presidential electors
  • S.127, An act relating to clarifying community supervision furlough appeals and the powers of the Corrections Monitoring Commission
  • S.220, An act relating to State-paid deputy sheriffs
  • S.254, An act relating to maintaining records of judgments and settlements paid by law enforcement agencies and a legal analysis of qualified immunity
  • S.287, An act relating to improving student equity by adjusting the school funding formula and providing education quality and funding oversight

When signing S.287, Governor Scott sent a letter to the General Assembly, which can be viewed below:

May 23, 2022

Dear Legislators:

Today, I am signing S.287, improving student equity by adjusting the school funding formula and providing education quality and funding oversight, however, I believe our work in this area has just begun.

Despite the promises of Act 60 and the policy changes that have been made since its implementation, deep inequity persists in our education system. Despite the best efforts and sincere intentions of policymakers, there are unequal opportunities and outcomes for students from historically marginalized backgrounds, and based on socioeconomic status, school size and region.

Giving all students an equal chance at success has been a priority of mine since coming to office. And, while the current per pupil weighting formula is out of date, it is just one symptom of an unequal system of education, with increasing costs and decreasing opportunities, that requires fundamental reform. While S.287 does not rise to this level, I am signing it based on its goal of improving equity for all students and schools through updated pupil weighting.

However, we must acknowledge, S.287 does not guarantee more equal opportunities for kids. These new weights give certain schools the ability to spend more, but this bill does not require investment of these additional resources directly in students. Nor does new spending capacity mean there will be better outcomes. Vermont already spends more on K-12 education and has more teachers per pupil than nearly every other state. And to be clear, if our kids were receiving the maximum benefit, and equal opportunities, from this investment, I would welcome it. But the fact is, we are not delivering the quality or equal opportunity our kids deserve – and should receive based on what we spend.

We also know this bill risks further increasing the cost of our education system in a way that compounds these underlying issues – particularly if we continue to see fewer and fewer students alongside annual school budget growth of three to four percent, on average.

At the same time, the Legislature passed several other new policies, including universal school meals and PCB remediation, community schools, literacy reform and facilities repair that will likely lead to even higher costs for taxpayers. I urge the Legislature to work with my team, alongside our schools, to address cost containment and transparency to moderate the tax burden of the education funding system in the coming years.

Specifically, in the next biennium the Legislature should:

  • Consider how a recession and/or a slowdown in real estate market may impact the five percent rate cap placed on districts.
  • Adjust the timeline to ensure the Agency of Education has adequate time to conduct the needed rate reviews before the Department of Taxes sends out tax rate letters.
  • For FY26, reinstate the requirement that districts disclose the year over year percentage change and dollar change in per pupil spending. I understand why it was suspended for FY25, as per pupil spending won’t be comparable to the prior year. But following this transitional year, voters have the right to know the annual change in spending.

We have time to make these changes before this new formula takes effect. Most importantly, we must improve student outcomes and provide equal access to a quality education for all kids, while also ensuring Vermonters can afford it. We can only achieve true equity and better outcomes by working towards both goals, together.

Sincerely,
/s/

Philip B. Scott

Governor

Coalition Statement on Governor Signing S.287

The Coalition for Vermont Student Equity (CVTSE) is thrilled to see Governor Scott fully endorse equitable education funding by signing S.287, the bill to finally correct the inequitable pupil weights. With his signature, he is bringing to fruition years of hard work by countless individuals. We are truly grateful to him for his support.

For over 25 years now, English language learners, small schools, low-income and rural school districts have been severely underfunded. It has resulted in an entire generation of learners not having the educational resources they need to keep up with their peers in other parts of the state. It also resulted in financially struggling communities being forced to pay incredibly high education property tax rates in order to fund school budgets that still didn’t fully address the needs of all students. This correction is long overdue, and we are deeply appreciative of the current legislature for finally getting it done. We know it was difficult work at times. But you put action behind your words and voted overwhelmingly for progress and real, tangible equity. It may be too late for past generations, but the future is looking very bright for all Vermont students. We hope you feel proud of this work, because it’s going to make a real difference for our communities.

CVTSE initially came together to advocate for the implementation of the correct pupil weights as recommended in the landmark 2019 study authored by the University of Vermont and Rutgers University. It has become clear to us though, that there is a more long-term role for us to play in advocating in Montpelier on behalf of Vermont’s neediest school districts. Though the new weights are now set to be implemented in 2025, we will continue to meet and to monitor the implementation of these weights and other issues to ensure that the promise of Brigham is fully kept by the State of Vermont.

Sincerely,

Board of Directors

Coalition for Vermont Student Equity / CVTSE.org

To view a complete list of action on bills passed during the 2022 legislative session, click here.