By Ken Libby
From 1997 to 2012, Vermont had a 15 percent decrease in K-12 enrollment — about 1,000 fewer students a year. Despite declining enrollment, Vermont’s education spending has dramatically increased. Skyrocketing school spending plus declining enrollment doesn’t add up.
There are two main reasons for declining school enrollment: Vermont has the second-lowest fertility rate in the country (fewer births now mean fewer children in schools when they start kindergarten six years later) and more people leave Vermont than move into it.
The late 1990s marked the beginning of Vermont’s increases in education spending. By the mid-2000s, inflation-adjusted spending had risen to about $1.5 billion — as much as a 50 percent increase in a decade. Compared to other states, Vermont spends significantly more per student, with some estimates indicating that per-pupil spending is as much as 71 percent higher than the national average.
A survey conducted by Vermont Realtors showed that 76 percent of Vermonters believe that school property taxes are too high. Reforming Vermont’s education finance system is not a simple task and it will take time. But to do the best for our children, their future and our state as a whole, we must begin prioritizing changes that will bend the spending curve while a more comprehensive solution is designed.
The Vermont Realtors, the Vermont Voice of Real Estate, has a very active government affairs committee. The committee meets weekly during the Vermont legislative session and it had a tough time separating fact from fiction. As a result, it obtained a grant from our national association and contracted with Art Woolf, noted Vermont economist, to review the material known to be reliable. Our goal was to identify the problem.
The study was interesting, in that it did not agree that significant savings in school expenses could be obtained by some of the more frequently discussed options, such as fewer supervisory districts.
Vermont Realtors decided that someone needed to become a source of information so the public could be aware of the various proposals and how they would impact property taxes. With that in mind, we received another grant from the National Association of Realtors and have developed a website: knowmorevt.com. The objective is to provide the reader with one location to get all the information. You will also see that, once legislation starts to be presented, it will be posted on this site so you can have it at your fingertips.
Vermont Realtors also has arranged for a final grant from the national group, if required, to conduct public education if a bill that seems to fix the problem is proposed by the legislature. Stay tuned. Check this site a few times a week and be informed.
This guest perspective was also published in the Stowe Reporter.