The author and Act 60
Calling his state's new school finance law "Marxism," novelist John Irving has joined a growing number of Vermonters who are speaking out against it.
The law, called Act 60, was designed to reform the state's school finance system by abolishing local property taxes in favor of a statewide tax. ("Vt. Lawmakers Include New State Property Tax in Finance Plan," June 25, 1997.)
Act 60 will begin to go into effect in the coming school year, and it has already sparked protests from residents of wealthy towns. Several towns, in fact, are considering withholding their state tax payments to protest a drop in their school funding even as their taxes climb significantly.
Mr. Irving, the author of The World According to Garp and other best-selling novels, lives in Dorset, Vt., and has a son who attends kindergarten at a public school. But he told Time magazine that he plans to open his own private school and, if his plan doesn't work out, he'll move. His remarks appeared in the magazine's June 15 issue.
Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, and other supporters of the law are holding fast to their position that Act 60 will end years of disparities between the state's rich and poor towns, said Tom Bisson, a spokesman for the Vermont education department.
Does California rank 37th or 28th nationally in average per-pupil spending? That depends on whom you ask.
The state education department says that, in the 1997-98 school year, the Golden State spent $911 less per student than the national average of $6,495--putting California 37th.
But new data from California's nonpartisan legislative analyst's office indicate that the state spent just $342 below the average this school year--raising its ranking to 28th.
Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, is using the new numbers to defend his administration against criticism that it has not been generous enough to schools.
"It is important to clarify the funding figures when they are being circulated so inaccurately," Mr. Wilson said in a statement.
But state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, a Democrat, said in a statement that the new numbers reflect outdated enrollment figures and other calculations that inflate per-student spending.
--JOETTA L. SACK & ROBERT C. JOHNSTON
Vol. 17, Issue 41, Page 22