Symington says education funding proposals are likely

03/01/07 12:00AM By Mitch Wertlieb
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(Host) All this week VPR is turning its focus on education, and possible changes to the way it's funded in Vermont.

House Speaker Gaye Symington says legislators have been considering changes, and will likely have some proposals when they return to Montpelier after Town Meeting Day business is done.

VPR's Mitch Wertlieb has more on this story.

(Wertlieb) Symington says legislators have been eyeing some governance changes proposed by Education Commissioner Richard Cate.

They're also considering Governor Douglas' proposed spending controls for school budgets, and are concerned about how to fund special education:

(Symington "In the area of governance and school district consolidation, the proposal the Commissioner has put forward is about consolidating school districts. He's not talking about closing schools. The Education Committee feels that to decrease the number of school districts from the current 283 to his proposal of 53 may well provide for more effective means of school governance. It may be more cost effective, not through immediate cuts or immediate impacts but through allowing for better use of resources, facilities and staff, more effectively."

(Wertlieb) Symington says she's aware of the rift between the Democratic legislature's strategies for containing costs and Governor Douglas' proposed spending cap for schools to do so.

Governor Douglas wants a spending cap for school budgets set at 4%, dropping eventually to 3 and a half percent which communities could override with a supermajority vote at Town Meetings.

But Symington says this approach poses some problems:

(Symington) "Legislators feel that this cap as proposed would hit the lowest spending schools the hardest, because they would start at a lower spending rate and then be limited to lower increases. It's also true that schools that tuition all or most of their students really have little control over the tuition they're charged and so it seems unreasonable to submit them to any kind of a spending cap, and special education costs can dramatically affect 1 year's spending relative to another so the legislature is instead separating out special education costs and looking at some changes to special education reimbursements for higher spending districts, and use the current high spending threshold as the basis for that."

(Wertlieb) Symington says lawmakers are not pushing for any wholesale changes to Acts 60 and 68, rather the focus is on maintaining Vermont's high standards for education while containing costs.

Note: These issues will be discussed in greater length tonight in the second broadcast of VPR's Symposium on the future of education.

You can hear remarks by former Governor Madeleine Kunin during a reception prior to the program at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier at 6:00pm and then join the VPR studio audience at 7:00pm.
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