Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Education > Don’t hurt kids in the name of “fairness”

Don’t hurt kids in the name of “fairness”

It’s too early to have a clear picture of how Vermont should allocate the $1.25 billion it received last week from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. But a fully funded, fully functioning public education system has to be a top priority.

We’ve already heard demands that “schools need to share the economic pain” caused by the coronavirus crisis. At first blush, that sounds like a reasonable appeal to a sense of fairness. But it won’t be schools that pay the price if we start cutting education funding. It will be children, who already are going to miss about a third of this school year. Are we really going to ask third graders or high school sophomores to “share the pain” by giving up part of their education next year too? Are we prepared to tell them they need to do more with less education?

Putting the economy into an induced coma to fight COVID-19 has created serious problems for the state’s Education Fund. Sales taxes, rooms and meals taxes, lottery receipts, and similar revenue dedicated to the Education Fund are projected to drop $69 million during the last four months of the fiscal year (March through June). On an annual basis, that would be about a $200 million shortfall in the fund, and we have no idea yet how many Vermonters won’t be able to pay their schools taxes for the coming year.

Gov. Phil Scott and the Legislature deserve credit for moving quickly to get money to Vermont individuals and businesses so they can buy food, pay bills, and cover other necessities. The execution was flawed at times, but they recognized the need, which hasn’t been the case for all political leaders across the country.

Voters have passed most school budgets for next year. The administration and the Legislature should allocate enough of the federal money to fund next year’s school budgets while giving taxpayers some relief with tax rates that are no higher—and preferably a little lower—than they were for this year. That will help to restore educational stability for Vermont’s schoolchildren, and it will provide direct help to Vermont homeowners, who can’t be asked to make up a shortfall in the Education Fund in the middle of this crisis. This is exactly the kind of coronavirus emergency the federal funds are meant to address.

Governor Scott wants to put Vermont on “a path toward having the very best education system in the country, and ultimately, in the world.” One of the things we’re learning from this pandemic is where we’ve failed to plan and make adequate investments for the future. We don’t want to be reminded by the next crisis that we should have maintained our commitment to our local schools, local communities, and the next generation.


Posted by Jack Hoffman on April 27, 2020 at 11:36 am

4 Responses to “Don’t hurt kids in the name of “fairness””

  1. Chuck Lacy says:

    I agree with the premise.

    But children are NOT missing a third of the school year. With heroic efforts by faculty, staff, and most parents the children in my school district are continuing their schooling this spring. This needs to be common knowledge if we are to have any hope of passing school budgets next year.

  2. Scott Thompson says:

    Agreed! This notion that “schools need to share the economic pain” might make more sense if our schools behaved like hedge funds or merchant banks. But they don’t, of course. They’re investments we make in ourselves, in our future survival and shared prosperity. One might as well say, “We’re taking it on the chin, so I guess we’ll need to shoot ourselves in the foot.”

    Our obligations as individuals are a different matter. Out of fairness and solidarity we do need to share in those sacrifices that are necessary to keep each other alive and healthy, sacrifices now shouldered disproportionately by many who are being crushed by them. But let’s not liquidate our public capacity to educate future generations. There are plenty of trees in the woods; we don’t yet need to burn our furniture in order to keep warm.

  3. Christine Zachai says:

    The crisis schooling experience of children and families varies wildly from school to school, and family to family. While it’s great news that some parents feel that their children’s schooling is continued, we all need to understand that the same vast inequities that existed across our school districts pre-COVID still exist, and are negatively impacting children’s experiences now.

  4. Jennifer Hemond says:

    Please continue to bring attention to this matter! My district (CCSD) has already made cuts, resulting in teacher RIF’s, and drastically changing the school structure for students of grade 1-3, in response to anticipated Ed Fund shortfalls. This is going to provide them insufficient support socially, emotionally and academically when returning to school in the fall – whatever that is going to look like.
    The focus of finances before education is backwards and irresponsible, and will cost us for years to come.