I was fortunate to be invited by the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday, January 31, 2014 to present my Education Transformation Proposal. The following is my testimony:
H. 378 - Rep. Heidi E. Scheuermann
Thank you very much for inviting me here today. As many of you know, I have had this Education Transformation Proposal out there for the past six years, so I'm certainly excited to be able to present it to you today.
Before I go into the specifics of the proposal itself, I want to be clear about the principles I used to guide me as I developed it, and have since further refined it. First and foremost, this is a comprehensive transformation - in both the delivery and structure of the education system itself, and in the way we fund it. I believe strongly that you cannot separate the two - that they must go hand in hand. Once that principle was established, I further set the following guidelines for myself:
- Expanded educational opportunities for our children
- Improved educational outcomes
- Reconnection of taxpayers to budgets voted upon and money spent
- Reconnection of taxpayers to the outcomes achieved
- Substantially equal educational opportunities for all students throughout the state
- An equitable and fair, less complex, sustainable funding system
In 1997, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in favor of Amanda Brigham and made clear that Vermont must provide "substantially equal educational opportunity" to all Vermont students. As a result, the Legislature passed Act 60. A controversial piece of legislation then - and Act 68 later - Act 60's principle goal of ensuring the equalization of funding has been realized. Communities that were not able to afford certain tools, programs, and services prior to Act 60 now are able to afford them.
With this goal arguably accomplished, we can be proud of that achievement. The equalization of funding is no longer a primary issue. The question now is how we can provide a first rate and affordable education to students across the state so that they can compete successfully in the knowledge-based global economy of the 21st Century.
School districts and supervisory unions throughout Vermont already collaborate well in a number of areas. For example, services provided by speech pathologists and psychologists are sometimes shared, in addition to language teachers and other course offerings. This is done in an effort to eliminate duplication and to save costs, an has been a positive development over the years.
It is now time to build on that collaboration and cooperation and develop a new model for serving our students in Vermont - a model that a) brings together our educational communities in order to expand educational program and service opportunities for all of our children and do so in a cost effective way; b) will reduce the need to eliminate classroom teachers or programs like middle school athletics and high school band by offering flexibility that allows schools to collaborate and cooperate more easily with one another; c) offers flexibility and collaboration when two or three students with special needs arrive at the school, causing costs to rise significantly; and d) relies on a funding system that does not pit neighbors against neighbors, towns against towns, and school districts against school districts.
PART 1 - EDUCATION DELIVERY AND STRUCTURE REFORM PROPOSAL
- Replace Supervisory Unions with larger "Educational Districts," the boundaries of which would be similar to the current Regional Technical Centers
- Educational Districts (ED) would be responsible for the following:
- All aspects of Special Education, including the hiring of special educators, assignment of their services to schools within ED, development of IEPs, in consultation with local special education instructors and administrators, and parents
- Purchase and distribution of supplies to all ED schools
- Financial and student data management of all schools with ED
- Transportation services
- Hiring of all educators, administrators and staff employed within ED, with contracts negotiated and executed at ED level
- Students would have the option to attend any elementary or secondary school within their ED, and would be allowed to tuition to schools outside of the ED
- Each ED would have a District board with representation from each participating community
- Local School Boards would focus on academic policy and educational quality, but would present the local school budget proposal to the ED Board, and be the voice to ensure the allocation of the global budget meets program needs
To fund such a model, we also need a new financing system that respects the gains Vermont has made in funding equity since Act 60, while also emphasizing local control at the Educational District and School District levels.
PART 2 - EDUCATION FUNDING REFORM PROPOSAL
- Each Ed would develop and ED-wide budget and be empowered to assess a property tax within the ED to fund the budget
Non-property tax revenues would continue to go into the Education Fund to be used for categorical aid and to ensure "substantially equal educational opportunity"
- Funds raised through this system would remain in, and be distributed by, the ED
- The State would guarantee funding equity among EDs through this leveraging of existing state resources assigned to the Education Fund.
- The Common Level of Appraisal would be eliminated and replaced with rolling reappraisals within each ED.
To be clear, there are issues that must be addressed, if this proposal were to move forward, not the least of which are a) when we talk about the Educational Districts' ability to raise money, how exactly do we define "substantially equal?"; and b) will the non-property tax revenues be enough to equalize the districts, and if not, how can we supplement those funds while keeping intact the local control that is being returned in this proposal?
My proposal was written in such a way that if we were interested in the structure outlined, the specifics of how it would work need to be developed in the legislative process, specifically in both the Education Committees and the Ways and Means and Finance Committees. The fact that you invited me here today to present it, therefore, is a fantastic opportunity to start that process.
Thank you again.
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