The Challenges of Public School Funding: Part 2

Let’s Talk  about Acts 60 and 68

Act 60 was enacted in 1997, following the Vermont Supreme Court’s (VSC) decision in Brigham vs. State of Vermont. In Brigham, the VSC ruled that our educational funding system was unconstitutional because it allowed students in towns with higher property values to receive more money per pupil than towns with lower property values. To address this inequity, Act 60 was drafted and passed by the Vermont legislature. Act 60 established a state education fund whereby local property taxes are sent to the state and then distributed to each town based on a funding formula. Some inadequacies were discovered in Act 60, so Acts 68 (2003) and 130 addressed some of those issues. This resulted in the current funding structure we have today.

The education funding formula used by Vermont is what is known as a weighted formula. To keep things simple there are three primary factors that go into the formula:

  1. Average daily membership of each district for each school year with different weights given to PreK, elementary and secondary students (this number is calculated using a two-year average and the weights range from .46 to 1.13);
  2. Adjustments to costs based on average daily long-term membership are made for students from economically deprived backgrounds. The weight for students meeting this criteria is .25 and is then multiplied by the poverty ratio of the district; and
  3. Adjustments to costs based on average daily long-term membership are also made for English language learners, or EL students, in the amount of .20.

The Impact on Burlington

If we take a look back at Vermont’s school demographics as far as we can in the Agency of Education’s (AOE) online database we are able to see that in the 2005-06 academic year, the average Vermont school district was 95% white/Caucasian, 1% Asian, 2% Black, 1% Hispanic, and 1% Multi-Racial. In contrast, Burlington School District (BSD) was 81% White/Caucasian, 5% Asian, 9% Black, 2% Hispanic, and 3% Multi-Racial.

Demographics BSD vs State 2005-06

Let’s fast forward to FY17, or the 2016-17 school year. The Vermont school district average has changed slightly: 90% white/Caucasian, 2% Asian, 2% Black, 2% Hispanic, and 3% Multi-Racial. But let’s look at Burlington: 65% White/Caucasian, 12% Asian, 14% Black, 3% Hispanic, and 6% Multi-Racial.

BSD vs State Demographics 2016-17

What about the rest of Chittenden County or other K-12 districts of our size? In Chittenden County, only Winooski is more diverse, but if you compare school district enrollment our numbers differ greatly. Burlington enrolls 3,935 students compared to Winooski at 859. No other school district in Chittenden County compares to our level of diversity. Further, when looking at other K-12 districts in Vermont in the same size category as BSD (as defined by AOE), such as Springfield, Hartford, or Rutland City, none of them resemble the demographics of BSD. They align much closer to the state average.

One question we must ask, are we not allocating weight, or dollars to EL students? A look at data from the Education Commission of States shows where Vermont stands compared to other states using funding formulas.

* Maine ranges from 50-70% depending on density of EL students; North Dakota ranges from 20-30% depending on students’ language ability; Massachusetts ranges from 7-34% depending on grade level

As we look at this chart, we note that at least twelve states weight EL students more heavily than Vermont. As of 2015, 26 states were using additional weights for EL students. In Vermont, we have not revisited weighting since 2003. Given the current budget situation we’re facing, this is just one avenue we need to explore with the legislature to address gaps in funding for Burlington. BSD is not like the rest of the Vermont and this data clearly illustrates why.

In Part 3, we’ll talk about PILOT funds, some BSD budget history, and this year’s budget.