Everyone agrees education costs too much. Curiously missing from the discussion, however, is any question of why the price is rising. Instead we’re trying to force ourselves to just spend less. Most every town approved their budget this year. Why? Because Vermonters value education, and if we have to spend a lot to get it, well, we’ll just have to spend it. For 10 years, we’ve tried to force towns to spend less, with no success. This year’s Legislature is set to try the same thing harder. Hey, if you hit that brick wall with your head hard enough, it might break.
Let’s do something different. Let’s look at what’s causing the expense. Maybe it’s special education costs. If so, why is that rising? If more and more children are disabled, then we have a serious problem that has nothing to do with school spending, we have a public health crisis. Or maybe special ed costs are rising because the federal government — which was supposed to pay for it — is balancing its budget by shifting the cost to towns. If so, town meeting can’t solve the problem, the problem is in Washington. If, on the other hand, the problem is rising fuel costs, maybe we’d rather pay it than save the money by compromising our children’s learning. If it’s that schools are just piling on unnecessary programs, let’s cut them.
Until we look at why costs are rising and address the actual problems, we’re doomed. If all we’re going to do is force towns to spend less, let’s be honest about what we’re doing and admit that we don’t care what our children learn, so long as it’s cheap.
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