Letter: Vermont's deeply flawed education funding system

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To the Editor:

I urge local residents to become familiar with the recent Pupil Weighting Factors Report that was championed, in part, by our local delegation.

Behind the analysis and statistics, this report says what we have known all along: per-pupil costs are not actually being "equalized" by current education funding models. Rather, funds are being distributed in a way that unfairly penalizes schools in less populous regions, and doesn't adequately account for the needs of students living in poverty.

This is not just about money, it's about opportunity. Families in my school district know full well that our children are not getting the same educational opportunities as students in neighboring districts. In the past two weeks, The Deerfield Valley News detailed not only how our school budget is so strapped that offerings are decreasing, but also that the number of students requesting to be transferred out of district in our secondary school has become so high (18 percent, with requests from the incoming freshman class tipping 20 percent) that it has caused a legal quandary for our superintendent.

In addition, teaching our young people that the only way to access opportunity is to go outside their community has taken its toll on our town. Wilmington, like much of Southern Vermont, finds itself in a demographic free-fall. Having a small pool of seriously stretched working families puts a strain on civic engagement, as we struggle to fill volunteer boards and find volunteers for emergency services. And with limited educational opportunities to offer (coupled with high residential tax rates) we have little leverage with which to attract or retain the young families we desperately need.

The Pupil Weighting Factors Report provides a clear a path forward towards fixing the lack of equity in our current situation. At the least, it's the best way forward we've been presented since Act 60 became law.

It's time to speak up, and to push our legislators to not consider any changes to education finance in the current legislative session until the General Assembly has acted on the report.This is a matter of restoring equity to the rural areas that contribute to our highly touted "Vermont way of life." We have the tools to begin to fix the injustice that has been wrought on our kids by a flawed education funding system. It is now up to our Legislature to do so without further delay.

Meg Staloff,

Wilmington

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