A school is often the one public building in small, rural communities and is likely to be a center for activities—part of the glue of the town. Yet our traditional small schools are under pressure in today’s world.
The cost of educating our children in Vermont has been rising more quickly than the rate of inflation. Some of the factors contributing to this rise in costs are:
* federal and state unfunded mandates
* growth in array of services provided to children and youth within the public school system
* increase in health insurance costs
* increase in transportation costs
* decline in the number of school-aged children
Declining enrollment and the small, rural nature of our communities are increasing the pressure on small schools to cut costs and to consider consolidation. However, it is important for policy makers and citizens alike to explore ways to respond to these pressures, and the answers do not necessarily lie in putting students on a bus for long periods of time and sending them out of their communities.
While consolidation of services may make sense, it is important that the individual towns make the determinations themselves as to the future of their schools. It is also important for policy makers to support the use of new and creative ways to save money, generate revenue, and use school buildings in nontraditional ways.
* A study commissioned by the Vermont legislature examined the costs of educating students adequately in Vermont and recommended a 19.1% increase in spending per pupil. (5)
* Vermont’s public schools continue to score consistently higher than the national average on the NAEP National Assessment of Educational Progress) standardized tests in mathematics, science, reading and writing. (6)
* “Research has shown that smaller schools reduce the damaging effects of poverty on student achievement and help students from poorer communities narrow the achievement gap between them and students from wealthier communities.” (7)
* Several national studies show not only the benefits of small schools to the students, but significant advantages to rural communities that have their own school over those that do not, including higher property values and lower poverty rates. (8)
* Avoid measures such as caps on spending increases, school consolidation, or other cost-containment measures that are inequitable or disproportionately punish small rural communities.
* Support public policy that encourages community-based schools and assists those communities that have difficulties sustaining schools with low school population.
* Prevent policy changes that allow individuals who want to use public education funds for individual school preferences to drain resources from community public schools.