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
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.