Speakers Challenge Task Force To Adopt Per-Pupil Weights From University of Vermont Study | Local News

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MONTPELIER – As it continues its work to develop a more equitable per-student weighting formula for public schools in the state, a legislative task force has received some backing from Vermonters who said the task force should use the weighting formula achieved by a University of Vermont researcher two years ago rather than tinkering with his own plan.

But lawmakers said the task force needed to apply updated data and school district boundaries in order to get it right.

At issue is whether Vermont school districts have the adequate fiscal capacity to provide equitable opportunities to public school students. A number of districts in southern Vermont, including Arlington, Bellows Falls Union, Brattleboro Union and Mount Anthony Union school districts, were underweight in 2019, according to a Vermont Agency of Education Data Simulator.

Advocates say the updated weights, used to calculate each district’s per-student spending threshold, would allow underweight districts to raise more money for programs and services.

The formula prescribed in the UVM study, proponents argue, would provide this taxing capacity by adding per student weights that recognize the greatest expenditure on education for poor students, in sparsely populated rural districts, and learners. English speaking. This would not increase spending, but would redistribute existing funds so that underweight districts can raise funds for the programs without overburdening taxpayers.

In their comments on Friday, stakeholders, including members of the Vermont Student Equity Coalition, criticized the task force on a proposal to remove the weighting factor for English language learners (ELL), for its slow progress in producing an updated simulator of the impact of the new weights on districts schools, and its attempt to produce new weights without the expertise of the researchers who produced the UVM report.

“You have the data. You have the numbers. You’ve read it, you’ve seen the study and it’s clear the current weighting system isn’t fair, ”said Scott Salway of Dover, previously a teacher at Twin Valley Middle-High School.

“Our rural district is struggling to maintain its current level of service,” Newfane’s Elizabeth Erickson said in written testimony. “Often the wealthy few families pull their students away from Leland and Gray in search of a decent education for their children. This only decreases the number of Leland and Gray students even further and decreases public funds. This district is in crisis to stay afloat. Low income taxpayers need more equitable support for this rural school.

The speakers said the working group should simply apply the factors produced by the study, as they were methodically derived and peer reviewed. They said resorting to categorical aid outside the formula, or changing the weights to avoid the political backlash of overweight districts that could see tax increases or program cuts as a result, would rob students opportunities and exacerbate cyclical poverty and systemic racism.

The harshest criticism came from Tori Cleiland, a member of the Winooski school board, who asked the task force “Why are you getting rogue with the lives of the children of Vermont?” Residents of Winooski have been among the most vocal critics of the current weighting formula, saying it has caused high taxes and lost educational opportunities for students in the district.

“If you don’t come up with the full implementation of the recommendations of the Student Weighting Report, you absolutely make the decision to continue to fail those Vermont students whose lives have been affected by poverty, race and status.” handicap. And you absolutely decide to perpetuate racist and oppressive systems that continue to harm the most vulnerable among us: our children, ”said Cleiland.

UP-TO-DATE DATA

In a statement ahead of Friday’s hearing also issued in letter form, the task force co-chairs, Senator Ruth Hardy of Addison County and Representative Emilie Kornheiser of Brattleboro, said the task force had taken action. preliminary decisions on “targeted funding for English learners, a more accurate measurement of students in poverty and a mathematically consistent way to apply the weights.”

Hardy, D-Addison and Kornheiser, D-Windham 2-1, said the original plan was to release an updated model reflecting the proposed weights, updated numbers and boundaries for districts affected by the mergers in the Law 46 on October 20. But several factors thwarted that plan, they said, including the departure of employees from the Education Agency and the Legislative Joint Tax Office and the fact that the analyst started the new simulator from there. zero.

The Bill 46 mergers “had a significant impact on school budgeting and resource allocation decisions, enrollment numbers and school district sizes, all of which impacted the report’s findings and were expected to be. be included in the decision-making of the working group and the AOE model, “the letter said.

State Representative Kathleen James of Manchester said it was “reasonable” for the modeling to take longer than expected, given the changes since the 2019 report and the ground the task force needs to cover .

“It’s a big job, and better to wait until we’re sure the model is correct, rather than rushing into something that might contain wobbly numbers,” said James, D-Bennington-4. . “Still, I certainly understand everyone’s impatience. Obviously, principals want to see what we see, what they will see as soon as we get it. “

One of the questions raised by speakers and State Representative Laura Sibilia in a letter to Hardy and Kornheiser on October 28, is why an external supplier was not hired to produce an updated simulator . The funding was provided in the bill passed by the Legislature and enacted by Gov. Phil Scott, Sibilia said.

Sibilia also took issue with the way the task force questioned witnesses from underweight and overweight districts about their spending.

“An underweight district was inexplicably harshly questioned as to why they weren’t spending more on their students,” Sibilia said of questions put to a witness on August 28. “A few weeks later, an overweighted district was invited to testify about the need for more PLA resources in their school. [There was] no recognition that said school may already over-access resources due to incorrect weighting.

“When our education funding mechanism discriminates (differs, treats outside the fairness calculation) people living in poverty by questioning their ability to make the same decisions their wealthy neighbors have made for 20 years , what is rightly called the humiliation of poverty, ”said Sibilia. “When a community is not rich, the assumption is that if it could make good decisions, its community would not be poor. Making good decisions does not equate to wealth.

A number of speakers also said the task force must make public any new formulas or simulations before voting to send it to the entire legislature for consideration in January. It will happen, said James.

“I think it’s very important that before we pass a final bill we make sure we have all the comparative information we need – to make sure we’re making the right decisions,” James said. . “Everything we work on will be public, as will the work of any legislative committee or summer task force. “

The working group meet wednesday, and is expected to hear Deb Brighton, chair of the Vermont Tax Structure Commission, at 1 p.m. on the possibility of basing education funding on income rather than property value.


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