Education Funding

Well-to-Do Vt. Towns Seeking Relief From School Finance Law

By Joetta L. Sack — June 06, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Negotiations to revise Vermont’s controversial school finance law and offer an olive branch to hard-hit wealthy towns appeared to be dead late last week.

The Senate approved a plan that would give well-to-do districts more time to adjust to the law, known as Act 60, which instituted a statewide property tax and directed that the proceeds be used for education. The bill passed 24-6 on May 16 after lengthy debate and discord both from Democrats, who argued that the plan was giving too much away, and Republicans, who said it did not give enough.

But members of the House of Representatives do not appear to be interested in following the senators’ footsteps, making it unlikely that significant revisions will be put into the law this year.

Lawmakers were anxious to finish business for the year last week; the legislature had initially planned to recess in April. But some senators were working with their colleagues in the House to try to find a last-minute compromise.

Vermont overhauled its school finance system in 1997, after the state supreme court found the existing system unconstitutional because of wide spending gaps between wealthy and poor districts. The legislature, controlled by Democrats, quickly replaced the local property-tax system with the statewide system.

Wealthy districts, which had enjoyed low tax rates and significant resources, were thus forced to share tax money with poor districts that, despite high tax rates, had struggled to buy textbooks and supplies.

The most debated aspect of the plan has been the “sharing pool.” That provision, designed to allow well-heeled districts an outlet for spending more on schools, requires any town that chooses to raise its local taxes above the statewide rate to share a portion of those proceeds with other districts.

Under the Senate bill, the amount wealthy districts would be required to contribute would be capped for the next five years, giving the wealthy districts a short-term financial break and more time to adjust to the law, which began to take effect in late 1997. The House earlier in the session considered a measure to give much larger breaks to wealthy districts, but that plan died in committee.

The Senate measure also would give some property-tax relief to residents who own parcels of rural land, by expanding the definition of “homestead” and basing more of those residents’ statewide property taxes on their income, rather than the value of the land. Many farms in the wealthy communities have been owned by the same families for several generations, but have seen their property values inflated as city dwellers bought up land for weekend getaways. Some of longtime residents have had difficulty paying the higher statewide tax.

Not Over Yet

A related plan to streamline paperwork associated with the statewide property-tax system had appeared to hold some promise of passage. And some lawmakers said that though the plan seemed unlikely to pass last week, the situation was fluid and a deal was still possible.

“The old ‘It ain’t over till the fat lady sings’ principle is certainly true in the Vermont legislature,” said Sen. Richard J. McCormack, a Democrat who voted for the Senate measure although he opposed some of its provisions.

Vermont, unlike many states where legislative sessions have a specified duration, meets until it decides business is complete. State legislators hoped to finish business by next week.

Bill Talbot, the chief of finance for the state department of education, said officials in the agency had signed off on the Senate’s plan as a way to reach out to the wealthy districts. Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, and Commissioner of Education David S. Wolk have remained solidly behind Act 60.

“We strongly support the equity provisions of Act 60, and wouldn’t support anything that would be seen as detrimental to those provisions,” Mr. Talbot said, adding that “the Senate bill was acceptable.”

Some of the Democrats who ultimately voted for the Republican-sponsored bill were lukewarm in their support.

“If it doesn’t pass, I will not be at all unhappy,” said Sen. Jean B. Ankeney, who represents Chittenden, one of the state’s most populous communities and an area that would have benefited minimally from the Senate plan. She added that “the whining will go on.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 06, 2001 edition of Education Week as Well-to-Do Vt. Towns Seeking Relief From School Finance Law

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Student Achievement Webinar Examining the Evidence: What We’re Learning From the Field About Implementing High-Dosage Tutoring Programs
Tutoring programs have become a leading strategy to address COVID-19 learning loss. What evidence-based principles can district and school leaders draw on to design, implement, measure, and improve high-quality tutoring programs? And what are districts

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding The Political Spotlight on Schools' COVID Relief Money Isn't Going Away
Politicians and researchers are among those scrutinizing the use and oversight of billions in pandemic education aid.
7 min read
Business man with brief case looking under a giant size bill (money).
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding Here's How Schools Can Use Federal COVID Aid to Solve Bus Driver and Other Transportation Woes
The Education Department outlines districts' options for using relief money to solve nationwide problems in getting kids to and from school.
2 min read
Students catch their bus near Ambridge Area Senior High School on the first day of Pennsylvania's mask mandate for K-12 schools and day care centers on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, in Ambridge, Pa.
Students catch their bus near Ambridge Area Senior High School in Ambridge, Pa., earlier this year on the first day of Pennsylvania's mask mandate for K-12 schools.
Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Education Funding High Schoolers to Decide How to Spend $1.5 Million in COVID Funding
State officials called Connecticut's new Voice4Change campaign “a first-in-the-nation statewide student civic engagement initiative.”
1 min read
Image is an illustration of a school receiving financial aid.
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: E+, Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty)
Education Funding North Carolina Must Spend $1.75B to Narrow Education Gap, Judge Orders
The judge's order has angered GOP lawmakers and will likely set up a constitutional showdown between the three state government branches.
4 min read
Image of money.
TARIK KIZILKAYA/iStock/Getty