Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Education > Has Vermont put too much value on education all this time?

Has Vermont put too much value on education all this time?

According to U.S. Census data, Vermont has been funding public education at about $50-60 for every $1000 of residents’ personal income for nearly 20 years. In fiscal 2009, the most recent data available, Vermont spent $1.4 billion, which worked out to about $57 per $1000 of personal income. As the chart below indicates, education spending relative to personal income rose following passage of Act 60 in the 1997, which it was expected to do, and has dropped in recent years. In fact, the ratio of Vermont’s education spending to personal income was higher in 1992 than in 2009.

So it’s odd that Campaign for Vermont Prosperity, a new organization seeking to promote public policy debate, has been running radio ads citing Vermont’s 2008 spending— $56 for every $1000 of personal income—as if it were news.1

Although Campaign for Vermont Prosperity doesn’t say so explicitly, it seems we’re supposed to infer from the ads that Vermont’s relatively high ranking is a bad thing. The ads criticize Governor Shumlin and the Legislature for “refus[ing] to reform our statewide education funding system,” but don’t say how. It’s not clear whether Campaign for Vermont Prosperity believes we should be striving for higher test scores, even if it costs more, or that lower spending should be our goal, even if it means our kids have to settle for less of an education, closer to the U.S. average.

While the ratio of Vermont’s education spending to personal income has remained pretty constant for the last two decades, so has Vermont’s spending relative to the other states. In the 1990s, according to the Census data, Vermont usually ranked 3rd or 4th in education spending per $1000 of personal income. (It was 5th in 1996, just before passage of Act 60.) Since 2000—again according to the Census—it has ranked 2nd behind Alaska every year.

The recent evaluation of the state’s education funding system said Vermont has one of the most equitable funding systems in the country, thanks to Act 60 and Act 68. If other states were as equitable—that is, if there was less disparity in educational opportunity between their rich and poor communities—it is likely they would move ahead of Vermont in the spending-per-$1000-of-income ranking.

If Campaign for Vermont Prosperity wants to promote more public debate, its radio ads should be careful to accurately characterize the information it presents. The recent ads claim that Vermonters spend more of their income on education than residents of any other state. What the data show is the ratio of education spending to personal income. That doesn’t mean all of the money spent on education comes from Vermonters’ personal income. We know, for example, about 40 percent of the money in the Education Fund comes from corporations and from second homeowners who are not Vermont residents.

And perhaps Campaign for Vermont Prosperity could be clearer about defining the problem it sees and then suggest some solutions. If it really thinks we should back away from our commitment to education, Campaign for Vermont Prosperity should explain why educating our kids is no longer so important or why Vermonters have had their priorities wrong for the past 20 years.

  1. The ads cite a recent report on Vermont’s education funding system that ranked Vermont number 1 in education spending per $1000 of personal income in 2008. That study used information from the National Education Association. However, the U.S. Census, which calculated Vermont’s education spending at $57 per $1000 of personal income for 2008, ranked Vermont number 2, behind Alaska. []
Posted by Jack Hoffman on February 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm

8 Responses to “Has Vermont put too much value on education all this time?”

  1. Doug Hoffer says:

    Good work Jack. Facts seem to be a bit fuzzy over at the Campaign for Vermont.

  2. John Bloch says:

    Jack, you might throw some additional light on the subject if you identified just who is backing the Campaign for Vermont Prosperity. This is a great job on pointing out just what is at stake in this misdirected campaign.

  3. Peg Martin says:

    So-o-o,how does this inaccurate information get corrected for the general public? And how can “The Campaign” be called to task/urged to provide its “solutions.” The “throw the mud and see whose windshield it hits” has become depressingly frequent both instate and on the national level. Maybe a Vermont specific, very public “Fact-Check-Truth-O-Meter” of some sort?

  4. Rita Pitkin says:

    Thank you for shedding some light on this subject. Act 60 and Act 68 are working as they were designed – I am proud to live in a state that values both education and funding equality. I have not been able to find out what exactly the Campaign for Vermont stands for nor who they are – their website doesn’t offer much. Because of this, I choose to ignore them!

  5. Ann Manwaring says:

    The problem with education funding in Vermont is not how the money gets into the education fund, but how it gets out. We do have equity in raising money, but that equity does not buy equal education opportunity for all Vermont children. Why not is the next question we need to ask.

    Ann Manwaring

  6. David K Durfee says:

    The organization’s website states that it wants to eliminate the statewide property tax. Extrapolating from the pre-Act 60 years in the chart above, that won’t have any impact on spending–it will simply make it less equitable.

  7. Cassandra says:

    I’m surprized that everyone is having difficulty figuring out who is behind Campaign for Vermont from their website. I just looked at it and found that information easily acessable, although I’m not sure I liked the answer. The founder is another NYC transplant/retiree. Since the ad sounds like a campaign pitch, I have to assume this man is either running in the fall or just attmepting to oust or current govenor in general.

  8. Gretchen says:

    What about the phantom students that we all pay for when they do not exist? When the actual student population has decreased so much and the equalized pupil count fails to drop more than 3.5% annually. I know that I would not be happy subsidizing a district’s school budget for kids that are long gone. This is not equitable!