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Opinion: School finance reform needed

Max Kraus’ excellent letter in the Jan. 15 Addison Independent goes to the heart of the matter. It’s not just that school taxes are high and rising — even as student populations decline — but that the system is hugely inefficient and produces at best average results.
One major part of the problem, as Max points out, is that too few have skin in the game and therefore don’t mind too much if costs go up. Another, that our small and shrinking school districts incur heavy overhead costs that could be significantly reduced by consolidation. A third, the powerful influence the union exerts in defending something close to the status quo.
Supporters of that status quo argue that the steep costs of the current system are justified by Vermont’s superior educational results. I urge the editor of this paper to reprint in full University of Vermont economist Art Woolf’s trenchant analysis published by the VTDigger.org on April 15, 2014, which compellingly argues that our per pupil costs (as of three years ago) were 45 percent (!) above the national average but that our education system’s performance was at best average, maybe even a bit below — if Vermont, a predominantly white state, is compared to national results excluding minorities. However one may quibble with the details, that’s a pretty expensive deal for less-than-outstanding average results.
So the question is what are our representatives in Montpelier are planning to do about education reform in the coming sessions. What are Sens. Claire Ayre, Chris Bray and all of Addison County’s representatives in the House considering to change this situation? It would be nice to know.
Gov. Shumlin, to his credit, has offered a serious analysis of the education problems we face in his recent 2015 budget address, but then shied away from making far-reaching proposals. Maybe health care made him gun shy. Sooner or later, however, as costs rise, student numbers shrink and outcomes stagnate, we and our government will have to face the facts.
George Jaeger
New Haven

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