Commentary: Correct Act 46

This commentary originally appeared in The Caledonian Record. You may read it on their website here.

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Correct Act 46

To the Editors:

I am writing to appeal to Vermont’s legislators to help remedy some of the considerable damage that the uncertainty surrounding Act 46 has done to Vermont’s small towns -such as my home town of Cabot- when they convene in January. Remedies might include maintaining small school grants, reforming special education funding and administration, reforming school funding, and promoting initiatives to support the economic health and vitality of rural communities; such as an expansion of broadband access, funding for community economic vitalization, and education and training relevant for rural Vermont.

 

The criteria defined in Act 46 for the Agency of Education and the State Board of Education to decide the fate of schools did not consider the economic consequences of school closures on community vitality and cohesion or the economic wellbeing of rural Vermont. When schools close, fewer young families choosing a place to raise a family will locate there. That adversely affects life in small towns because young families bring new ideas, entrepreneurship, community spirit, and volunteer service. Also, when high schools close, real estate values gradually decline, further stressing school funding, funding for maintenance of town roads, fire and emergency protection, water and wastewater treatment and other vital services.

Families with high school age children observing the Act 46 process and the possibility of their high school closing must decide whether to face long bus rides and reduced access to school sports, relocate or to rush to apply for a school choice lottery. Thus, it should be expected that rural enrollment drops for reasons that may have nothing to do with the quality of the education offered. Now that the damage has been done, the legislature can and must redress some of these adverse consequences and improve conditions for a sustainable future of the affected towns.

A good place to start would be to help schools recover from the possibly temporary decline in student population caused by Act 46. It is critical to retain small school grants. Reform of special education and a shift of more of the tax burden from a real estate to income would also help to sustain taxpayer support for schools and other town services. Beyond steps that directly support schools, the legislature could help small towns by renewed efforts to expand broadband internet access, support for entrepreneurship and other economic vitalization initiatives and education and training with specific relevance for rural Vermont.

If others share these above concerns, please let your legislators know.

Respectfully,

Niels Larsen

Cabot, Vermont

 

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