Recent proposed changes to Vermont’s educational system are unlikely to produce projected results, according to a new policy brief released by Penn State’s Center on Rural Education and Communities.

In the brief, Vermont Educational Reform: A Balanced Approach to Equity and Funding, co-authors Ian Burfoot-Rochford and Daniella Hall, both doctoral students in Educational Leadership at Penn State, investigate proposed legislative reforms to Vermont’s educational system.

Multiple proposed reforms developed to address Vermont’s rising financial costs recommend consolidation as an cost-saving measure. However, after researching more than a century of data on consolidation, Burfoot-Rochord and Hall found no concrete evidence that district consolidation would produce beneficial financial or educational outcomes for Vermont.

“National and local research clearly shows consolidation does not produce financial savings or lower per-pupil costs,” write the authors.

Other proposals, such as the Education Finance Working Group’s recommendation to eliminate Vermont’s Small Schools Grant, is likely to undermine the economic and social stability in the state’s numerous small towns. Burfoot-Rochford and Hall write, “Such proposals fail to account for the critical role small schools play in sustaining their local communities. We assert that Vermont’s small schools are one of the state’s strengths, not a problem, and should be capitalized to sustain local communities.”

Instead, the authors propose a balanced plan that revises current funding systems to decrease educational costs, and redesigns the Small Schools Grant to strengthen cultural and economic health in rural towns. Designed to meet the specific needs of Vermont communities, the plan honors local control, fiscal responsibility and effective educational improvement.

Specifically, Hall and Burfoot-Rochford propose two essential reforms. First, Vermont should reform Act 60/68 funding structures by establishing parameters for school budget items funded through the education fund; and lowering the excess spending threshold, while also implementing size-based exemptions to ensure equity regardless of school size.

Second, Vermont should reform the Small Schools Grant by restructuring the grant to a competitive application process that incentivizes school partnerships with families, communities, and businesses; and increase funding for the restructured grant as a means to promote economic development and academic innovation in rural communities.

“Our plan proposes a path forward, where public education makes living and working in rural communities a sustainable choice in Vermont,” write the authors.

Burfoot-Rochford, a native of Vermont, was previously an elementary school teacher in Cabot, VT. He also was a 2013 recipient of the Rural Global Teacher Fellowship. Hall, a native of Maine, previously taught in several New England schools. She also is researching Vermont’s locally controlled school boards for her dissertation. Collectively, the authors have a strong vested interest in the Vermont’s schools, as well as a research-driven understanding of the complexities of the state’s educational system.

Revised January 12, 2015 – This press release corrects an earlier draft that incorrectly stated Campaign for Vermont’s proposed reforms recommend school district consolidation. The authors regret the error.