Supports say it will boost quality and address rising property taxes
On June 2, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law an historic education reform bill he believes will help ensure educational quality for all Vermont students while bending the cost curve on education spending to address Vermonters’ calls for property tax relief. The governor signed H.361 at the Smilie Memorial Elementary School in Bolton, which serves as an example of the type of reform the legislation calls for.
“This bill is a game-changer for Vermont,” Gov. Shumlin said. “This bill will allow local communities to right-size their infrastructure, enabling them to focus on what is most important–providing a high-quality, 21st-century education for their students at a price Vermonters can all afford.”
The final legislation focuses on preserving the high performance that is a hallmark of Pre-K-12 education in Vermont by:
creating incentives for districts that are actively trying to right-size through mergers
removing incentives that encourage schools so small that educational quality is compromised
forming partnerships between the state and local communities to collect and share data to inform decision making
creating a process for the state board of education and secretary of education to take action in certain districts if by 2019 they are not providing high-quality educational opportunities, are making fiscally indefensible decisions, or have made no reasonable plans to change
adding spending restraints to immediately control property tax growth before the longer-term structural changes have a chance to bring down overall state education spending. Under this provision, districts with high per pupil spending must grow at a much slower annual rate than districts with low per pupil spending.
The governor signed the bill at the Smilie Memorial Elementary School in Bolton. Bolton and its partner towns have improved opportunities for children, stabilized the elementary school, and reduced costs for local taxpayers.
“Bolton is proof that by working together, local communities can achieve benefits for both taxpayers and students,” the governor said.
As another example of the type of action the education reform bill is intended to spur, the governor pointed to Bridgewater and Pomfret, which earlier this year took a proactive step to reduce spending and ensure equity and opportunity for their students by combining their K-6 schools. The action, approved by both towns on Town Meeting Day, creates a new school, located at the campus of the present Pomfret School, and will save the Bridgewater and Pomfret voters 24 percent of their combined individual budgets. It will lower per pupil spending to $11,710 from $16,564 and $15,870, respectively while also expanding educational opportunities.
Several supervisory unions have indicated they intend to comply with the new law to redesign their systems. Seventeen out of the 64 supervisory unions in the state have requested meetings with state education agencies.