Op - Ed, Opinion

Rejection of school budgets shows need for new funding method

By Don Tinney

Editor’s note: Don Tinney is a longtime high school English teacher who serves as the elected president of the 13,000-member Vermont-NEA. The Vermont-National Education Association is the union of Vermont educators.

My fellow 13,000 members and I know that last night’s rejection of nearly a third of all school budgets isn’t a repudiation of our local public schools and the tens of thousands of Vermont students they serve every day. Rather, it’s a reasonable reaction to completely unrealistic spikes in property taxes driven by events over which our dedicated local school boards have no control.

We know that local communities are struggling, and most can’t afford year-over-year property tax increases of the sort proposed this week. 

A once-in-a-generation confluence of events conspired to boost tax rates: the end of pandemic aid; a new pupil weighting law and its since-abandoned 5% growth cap for towns affected by the new law; inflation; decades of deferred and neglected building maintenance by the state; rising healthcare costs; and spiking property values caused by our acute housing shortage.

While we are grateful that the governor and legislature apologized for their part in this year’s school budget fiasco, there is much more that can be done. For years, we have advocated for a simpler and fairer way to pay for our schools than the regressive property tax: an education income tax that will raise more money from those most able to afford it. 

We also implore the Legislature to take a serious look at how our local schools are governed and organized. And we continue to insist that lawmakers stem the flow of nearly $100 million a year in public education money to private schools without any accountability to Vermont’s taxpayers.

For centuries, Vermonters have placed a high priority on — and demonstrated dedicated support of — our local public schools. This week showed that despite that track record, there is a point where Vermonters can’t afford double-digit increases in their property taxes. We must get this right so that Vermont’s students – our future – have all the tools they need to become healthy, happy, and ready to pursue their dreams.

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