From the Data Book

Vermonters have many reasons to be proud of our education system. Our students score among the highest on national tests in math and reading. Our school-funding system is more progressive than most in the country, and we are increasing access to prekindergarten and healthcare for all children so that kids have the foundations they need to start school on strong footing. But strikingly unequal outcomes across race, class, and (dis)ability in our schools mirror the growing disparities that our children see in their larger communities.

We ask our schools, more than any other institution, to be an equalizer of opportunity. We do this because we know that education is linked to greater social mobility, higher incomes, lower unemployment rates, and higher overall health indicators. But kids with economic stability and racial privilege tend to do better in school, and they always have. Children from low-income families, disabled students, and students of color score worse on standardized tests, are more likely to be suspended or expelled, are less likely to graduate on time, and are less likely to reach college or career-readiness, go to college, and graduate from college.

Our schools are not isolated from, nor can they be asked to compensate for, increasing inequality in our communities. Rather, schools are unique sites to witness the impacts of our eroding social contract. In the midst of debates about testing, teacher evaluations, and the cost of education, we see our schools asked to do more and more. Standardized evaluations do not track the myriad out-of school factors that directly influence academic achievement, and our underfunded schools cannot address the problems of racism, poverty, and inequitable educational outcomes alone.

As enrollment declines, and the state debates the rising per-pupil cost of education, we are asked to consider our collective commitments and priorities. In the past 30 years, Vermont corrections spending has grown significantly faster than education spending. Per-pupil spending in the state has risen, but spending on corrections has gone up more than twice as fast. We now spend over 50 percent more on corrections than higher education, a near reversal of our allocations in 1990. Such funding trends suggest spending is out of alignment with our values, and point to a larger re-direction of resources toward corrective rather than preventative measures.