Act 129 Impacts School Finances

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Thursday June 27, 2013

Since 2002, when Act 150 was created, South Burlington as well as its partner schools have enjoyed the benefits of a school choice agreement that has afforded students the opportunity to attend South Burlington, Essex, Burlington, or CVU regardless of residency. However, in 2012, the legislature passed Act 129 which alters these agreements significantly. One of the most significant changes impacts finances. Under Act 150, tuition money followed the student. However, under Act 129, caps are set on enrollment and tuition dollars no longer follow the student to another district. This legislative decision adversely impacts South Burlington. This year the District had 38 students coming in and only 10 going out. This legislative change will equate to a $300,000 revenue loss for the district. Young explained that prior to this change taking place; South Burlington has been able to provide consistent opportunities to students. There are currently many individuals on a waiting list to get into South Burlington and the cap has been set at 30 students. 

The recommendation Young made for discussion, but not action at the  June 19 School Board meeting was that siblings of non-residents students be allowed to join their brother or sister who is already enrolled at a South Burlington  school. So far, this equates to 1 individual for next year. Young is particularly sensitive to the sibling status since this legislation took affect without these parents having prior knowledge. “The fundamental flaw in the legislation is that money no longer follows the student,” Young said, “and it is certainly a very politically charged issue.” 

David Arms, a parent of a South Burlington rising sophomore expressed his frustration that his daughter was enrolled as a South Burlington resident during her freshman year but under the new legislation will no longer be able to attend since his family moved to Shelburne. He was assured by  Champlain Valley Union (CVU) that when his family moved to Shelburne, there would not be a problem with his daughter continuing her high school education at South Burlington, but this is no longer the case. “You’re basically telling an existing student, that she can’t return” Arms said, “we would have moved sooner, if we had known this was no longer going to be an option.”

The matter is further complicated by the fact that South Burlington has a unique school within a school: Big Picture. Jason Cushner, Program Coordinator of Big Picture explained that they have a separate capacity with a limit of 30 students.  He thinks that school choice has been an asset since expanding knowledge of cross cultural diversity is part of the program. In terms of resolving the financing issues that are arising as a result of the new legislation, he said Big Picture is working with the Agency of Education to be classified as a tech school, in which case, tuition money would still follow the student. 

Jack Behlendorf, Chair of the U46 school board was also present to offer his support. “The choice agreement has been beneficial,” he said, “We want to work collaboratively and partner with South Burlington…toward the best interests of the students.” Like South Burlington, Essex also takes students from districts that do not have a high school and tuition follows them. Essex has set their capacity at 20 students to come in. However, unlike South Burlington, they do not have a wait list. Behlendorf also made it clear that they are not withdrawing their financial support for students who are already matriculated at South Burlington. 

This change in legislation has brought forth a number ofunanticipated implications. Elizabeth Fitzgerald said they need to understand all of the costs associated with this legislation. Martin LaLonde would also like to better understand the marginal costs such as laptops and other supplies. This topic will continue to be discussed especially in terms of how best to balance the requests of students and parents with resources and potential costs as the upcoming school year approaches.  

SOURCE:Corey Burdick, Correspondent