Jean Walz: The school’s financing proposal continues to target the privileged
This commentary is from Jean Waltz, Member of the Burlington School Board and Co-Chair of the Board’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
In 1997, in Brigham v. State, the Vermont Supreme Court found that the Vermont Constitution requires the provision of substantially equal educational opportunities to all students.
The court declared the state education funding system unconstitutional because it resulted in large disparities in spending per student.
A few months after this decision, the legislature created a new education funding system that recognized the circumstances that hamper academic performance. The educational costs to address and counter these factors have been, in good faith, projected. The monetary projections were “weighed” and assigned a percentage of funds reflecting an addition to the base cost “per student” – a fundraising effort that is now referred to as “weight per student”.
Despite this effort, lawmakers saw disparities in student performance and, in 2018, commissioned a study. The study, which resulted in the “Student Weights Report” was conducted by the University of Vermont and Rutgers University and examined how Vermont accounts for the costs of educating different learners, such as as English learners, children living in poverty and children living in rural areas. areas.
Completed in 2019, its conclusions were austere and precise. The data revealed how our financially stable white students thrive in our schools disproportionately compared to students living in poverty and / or living in rural areas, but most importantly, students who are not white.
While the spirit behind Brigham is worthy of bragging, we have to recognize that the weights were introduced without any empirical evidence of a consistent state of mind and a consequent state of mind, unprepared to fathom the education of the students. of the 21st century.
This summer and fall, a task force met to address the documented injustice in our current education funding formula. While this may sound promising, the formation of a task force is on the verge of several disappointing “political compromises”, nullifying an opportunity to correct a fairness error.
The UVM / Rutgers report provided recommendations on how to correct exactly this flaw with a revised and fair “weighting” formula, but last session the legislature chose not to update the student weights. The session ended with the creation of a working group to develop legislative recommendations on student weight for consideration during the next session.
The working group itself is called the “Student Weighting Report Implementation Working Group”. Still, the task force went to great lengths to bypass the actual task of implementing the recommended weights. This includes a proposal to remove English language learners from the student weighting system by funding their education with targeted grants (known as “categorical aid”). Meanwhile, districts that have struggled under the current system are categorically telling the task force, in unison, that outright help will not solve the problem.
The problem is built into the current formula itself, and emphatic help is a band-aid at best. Districts need to be able to make long term plans, which is impossible with categorical help, as it changes from year to year depending on the political whims of the legislature.
Rather, the task force is listening to districts that have become accustomed to being overfunded and cannot think of cutting programs or asking their constituents to adopt a school budget that compensates for what the weighting formula does. not delivering – exactly what struggling districts have had to do for 20 years, but that would be pale in comparison with the cuts and budget requested.
I sit on the Burlington School Board, representing the Old North End – the most densely populated area of the most populous city in Vermont, which is also known for its economic and racial diversity, per capita, in New England. What this actually looks like can be gleaned in a matter of minutes while hanging out on my porch, seeing people representing all “demographics” come and go. What this actually looks like can be summed up as inviting and inspiring.
It is difficult to express in words the feeling of acceptance that this community exudes. I’m trying to paint a picture for you, knowing that Vermont is the second whitest state, just 0.2% behind Maine.
The residential makeup of my neighborhood is actually the norm in our country, but the Old North End is an extreme exception to what most neighborhoods look and feel in Vermont. Yet the people of Vermont have embraced the narrative of a progressive mindset, living in a forward-thinking state, ignoring how narrow their point of view is.
The majority of Vermonters are unable to see the prevalence of classism and racism. Or maybe they choose to look away. But there’s no denying that Vermont is not a progressive or forward-thinking place to live for people of color.
This is why I find it alarming, but not necessarily surprising, that there is on the table a proposal to fund a demographic primarily made up of black and brown children with unpredictable grants resulting directly from the appeasement of neighborhoods. who have become accustomed to privileges.
When I first read the UVM / Rutgers study, I felt such a sense of affirmation. Finally, data which concerned the “success gap” but even more a real identifier of a system which supports the polarization of the “haves and have-nots”. Because it is in this space between the haves and have-nots that prejudices are born and the concepts of prejudice and racism are learned.
The next time you ask your child, “What did you learn in school today?” Consider gleaning their responses for stereotypes, ranging from shameful poverty to overtly racial. In this process, I have noticed an effort to avoid calling the current funding formula an example of systemic racism. I know this has been a helpful way to keep the lines of communication open, but I can’t hold my tongue anymore.
The addition of the separation of English language learners from the education funding system treats them differently and, in itself, should be closely examined as a form of educational segregation – Insult to injury, cushioning tax implications for voters well-off.
In the hands of lawmakers, this is an opportunity to make a change to the system that will provide all of our children with a more equitable experience that will surely influence a trajectory in the culture of Vermont’s future state of mind. My point: Vermonters need to put their money where their mouth is. Where they put that money will say a lot.