Representatives last week approved a six-year phase-out of the $7.7 million small schools grant as part of a package of changes to the state's education financing law. Starting in 2019, the grant program would be reduced by one-third each year for three years.
More than 100 small schools in Vermont receive a grant from the state.
Similar proposals from the House Ways and Means Committee have been vehemently rejected in years past, but this session, lawmakers, many of whom represent districts with small schools, narrowly defeated an amendment from Rep. Vicki Strong, R-Craftsbury, that would have kept the grant program in place.
Strong told her colleagues that without the small schools grant, her district would have to cut staff and that would hurt the educational quality of the schools.
Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol and a member of House Ways and Means, countered that Craftsbury and other rural districts have among the lowest tax rates in the state in part because taxpayers in more populated areas subsidize small schools.
"We passed Act 153 to provide incentives to encourage school districts to merge while at the same time using a subsidy to encourage schools not to merge does that make sense? I think not," Sharpe said.
Rep. John Moran, D-Wardsboro, said his district would lose $386,000 and as a result the high quality programs for children would be at risk.
"All schools are geographically challenged, if the point of this is to force consolidation, this is a disservice," Moran said.
The vote was 61 for the Strong amendment and 77 against.