By Pete Mooney

So, the HUUSD budget finally passed in the third round. $47.9 million for roughly 1,750 students. Going strictly by the math, that’s about $27,400 per student, or 86% higher than the national average of $14,300 per student.  But that doesn’t take into account Vermont’s Byzantine ed funding formula which socializes all property wealth in the state and, after collecting all of it, distributes it as the state sees fit, meaning we don’t get back what we send, so good luck trying to determine our real cost per pupil locally.



If you voted for the budget, you also quietly endorsed the way Vermont funds education and you tacitly said you’re fine with 15% or so property tax increases every year. I don’t know about most Vermonters, but I can’t afford my property taxes doubling every five years.

Rejecting school budgets was about the only way voters had in the short term to express displeasure with the state’s approach to financing education and the failure to address cost. Our students deserve the best education we can give them, and the teachers and staff in our institutions are doing commendable work. But they are struggling in a broken system. Vermont education needs a major overhaul yet our Legislature kicked the can down the road on the cost side, preferring to shuffle around funding sources and pass legislation limiting property tax increases to “only” 13%. How does this issue get better next year?

We need to address the affordability crisis in Vermont and education may be our “canary in the coal mine.” I recently read a Tax Foundation report which shows that Vermont ranks only behind New York and Connecticut in Total State Tax Burden in 2022, with an “Effective Tax Rate” of 13.6%. By contrast, our neighbors in New Hampshire are at 9.6% (which is pretty darn comparable to Florida, by the way). I used to console myself that I could at least deduct my property and state income tax off my federal form, but even that went away with the Trump tax increase.


We will always have more needs than we can fund and many of the progressive initiatives our Legislature supports are noble causes. But our Legislature can’t continually resort to raising taxes like a teenager maxing out the limit on their first credit card. Rather than taxing more, we should consider how to make our education system more efficient and free up money for other things. This is painfully simplistic, but it illustrates my point; the state’s total education budget is roughly $2 billion a year or about $18,600 per student (I’m still not entirely sure what an “equalized pupil” is, by the way, but I’m imagining it is something like an FTE in the business world). If we could get that cost down to the national average of $14,300, we’d free up almost $460 million that could be spent on housing, addressing the fentanyl problem, homelessness, child care, and other things we need to support our citizens.

Or, we could return some of that money to the voters and figure out how to start growing the pie instead of the state working to take a bigger slice of a shrinking one. In January this year, Forbes ranked Vermont as the 50th most attractive state in which to start a small business, using factors like formation fees, cost of living index, business climate, corporate tax rate and other measures. How about we find another niche like the captive insurance business, probably the most successful state supported business initiative in Vermont that we rarely hear about? A high Total State Tax Burden does not attract people to Vermont and does not cause business to want to locate here.

Our Legislature needs to urgently address education cost and funding, and needs to develop a different mindset regarding growth, business and taxation if this wonderful state of Vermont is to thrive.

Mooney lives in Waitsfield.