Last week state Representative Adam Greshin (I-Warren) in his Valley Reporter column discussed a report from a consulting firm that was hired by the state to determine if Vermont’s school funding, as spelled out in Acts 60 and 68, is meeting the goal of providing substantially equal educational opportunities for Vermont’s students.
The answer is yes—but, as Greshin points out, at what cost? Since Act 60 was passed, spending on education in Vermont has increased faster than in any other state and, in fact, Vermont currently outspends 48 other states in spending on K-12 education.
There is not a question that all Vermont students deserve the right to a good education. But did education spending need to rise so fast and so high? Does it need to continue to rise? There is apparently no impetus to spending less, except of course for the so-called “gold towns” where school boards draft budgets so tightly that they squeak.
Part of the problem is a disincentive to spend less because spending more is relatively easy and to spend a dollar more does not cost a dollar. The report Greshin referred to includes a town-by-town calculation of the tax cost of an additional dollar of education spending. Before Act 60 the cost of spending an extra dollar meant raising another dollar from town residents.
Consider these numbers: At 2008 education spending rates, it cost taxpayers in Bakersfield 21 cents to spend another dollar on education. Barre City taxpayers paid 11 cents to add another dollar to ed spending. Taxpayers in Fair Haven paid 9 cents to add another dollar of ed spending.
At 2010 education spending rates, throughout the state it cost an average of 32 cents to spend an extra dollar. In that year, it cost 13 cents to spend another dollar in Canaan, 19 cents to spend that buck in Glover, 18 cents to spend it in Granville, 14 cents to spend it in Rutland City, 25 cents to spend it in Roxbury and 28 cents to spend it in Rochester.
In the towns formerly known as gold towns, only in two towns in the state, Weston and Barnard, did spending an extra buck cost more than a buck ($1.05 and $1.01). Spending an extra buck in 2010 in Stowe cost 71 cents, Waitsfield 44 cents, Warren 41 cents, Fayston 51 cents, Moretown 52 cents, Killington 63 cents, Peru 76 cents, Pomfret 91 cents and Woodstock 90 cents.
If spending another dollar on education does not even have real “raising another dollar from taxpayers” consequences, how can we ever expect the meteoric rise of ed spending to stabilize?