Superior Court Judge Robert Gerety last month denied the state’s motion to dismiss Boyd v. State, a challenge to the state’s educational finance system filed by residents of Whitingham, a small rural district that claims its students are being denied equal educational opportunities and its taxpayers are being treated unfairly.
Vermont’s educational funding system tries to promote equity by imposing a penalty on districts that decide to spend more than 125 percent of the previous year’s state average per pupil. The penalty requires districts to contribute a dollar to the state’s education fund for every dollar of spending above the 125 percent threshold.
The Whitingham plaintiffs claim that this provision unfairly affects small rural districts like theirs that need to spend more per capita to provide basic educational services than larger districts with economies of scale. James Valente, attorney for the plaintiffs argues that “The problem is that the formula does not recognize that high spending does not necessarily mean high discretionary spending.” The suit also claims that Twin Valley Middle High School, which has only 220 students, offers fewer educational and extracurricular opportunities than its larger counterparts.
“These claims involved allegations that the state has infringed on important rights guaranteed under the Vermont Constitution,” Judge Robert Gerety wrote his decision “A just result requires developing a full factual record, based on evidence, not mere allegations, before assessing whether the statutes involved are violative of the Vermont Constitution. Accordingly, the court has determined that the parties shall be afforded a reasonable period of time to complete reasonable discovery targeted at the specific claims of the parties.”
William Mathis, vice chair of the State Board of Education, and a former superintendent, who helped spearhead the litigation effort behind the state Supreme Court case that spawned Act 60, the landmark 1997 law that overhauled the state’s school funding system, is skeptical of the suit’s ultimate likelihood of success. “They’re wanting equal ed dollars but not equal ed taxes,” he said.