Our Thanksgiving special is an episode of The Impact -- a show about how policy shapes our lives hosted by Sarah Kliff. This season, Sarah and her team are focusing on the most exciting, innovative ideas at the state and local level. This episode, they're in Vermont, looking at a radical law to equalize education funding. Like what you’re hearing? Find The Impact on Apple Podcasts|Google Podcasts|Spotify|Stitcher|Overcast|ART19
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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Step every Friday see over their low and welcome to another episode of the weeds on the box. Media podcast network, Matthew, Iglesias and wealth is quite another episode, instead of we're taking the holiday off for you a special episode of the impact starring we
own Sarah Cliff shifting and look at some really innovative things that they have done in Vermont, where they face some real challenges. With financing the school system. In this small town known as Whiting, we don't get to delve into this level of detail, often on the weeds, and then we will be back and see what the regular episode on Tuesday waving Vermont has a post office, a community church, a few white flat houses surrounded by wide bide fields and dramatic lack mountains. Rising up in the distance Carol. Brigham has lived here, her home.
Life she's on the short side, with gray hair cut into an efficient bob there's something about all vermonter. Is that if you force me to do something, I always not like it, she does not have much time for stupid questions or much love for journalists in meat.
It's not always had the greatest thing, because leeches stir the pot almost on purpose. Her attitude grows out of
own experience. She has had a lot of media attention over the years because of her school waiting school. It small, like the town to classrooms and abasement room, pleasant office and carols tone complete
these shifts. When she talks about it all the windows face the east, and you see the Green
now ends, and so,
beautiful there in the morning the sun comes in we'd have to pull the shades cause. The sun would be read your eyes. Carols dad was on the school,
where and when she went there as a kid her daughter, Amanda went to the school to this place is full
of memory is one would be a man just six growing graduation cause. She looked so mature. Six grave graduations
created a big deal at waiting. Elementary student stand up and recite poems or give a little speech about their favorite ma
whence at the school and for someone who couldn't speak out loud. She would take an f over speaking in the classroom shoes,
but she she did
The graduation very very well,
Earlier Carol also had a six great graduation, its,
one of the many whiting school traditions like pancake, breakfasts and fall pot lux in a tiny town. The school is one of the few places where everyone gets together. It creates community which all sounds idyllic.
But back in the ninety nine days there was a serious problem. Brewing Carol had just joined the Waiting School Board also if his name has not come up yet bill math,
It was our superintendent, William James FISH is my name, superintendent schools here these days he's the vice chair of the Vermont State Board of Education, but he has no carol since she was fourteen years old. So he's a big big influence
my life Fisher, Caroline Bell were on the board together and every year they have to convince the town of waiting to help pay for the school. That meant gathering too.
Therefore, a tone meeting and going over the school budget. There would have everything in it
In terms of do we want to spend six thousand dollars on new roof in Ireland
power, she just patch and patch and patch, and still are now. We really really really new need a roof. What are we made a new route for? We just bought one. Twenty years ago there was a nickel diamond every single thing, waiting
school needed. These things are new roof a new floor. The timing was asbestos at the time, but they weren't even pulling it out. We were just putting
carpet over the tile, but that carpet only last about forty five years without that starting to rip up so you'd have to replace another garbage
they also needed staff
cool only had to full time teachers and part time principle, but passing budgets was really really hard, not because people and Whiting didn't care about the school they dead
even though whining is only for hundred people wish. You know it's still was yours, but we can't afford more than what we can afford. They just didn't have the money,
It's not a rich timing. There was, I hate the word rich, so we won't use that
with farming, community evolution, the driveway right here we can look over and see killing to mount.
And killing term has little more wealth, and why does remember the Mount
that waiting kid see out their classroom window. They are fantastic, frisking and skin means money. Money means property, wealth, property, wealth that Whiting does not have, but the ski ton of killings and definitely does or spending as much money as we possibly can afford, and not doing as good as our neighbours is terribly look. So
no uncurled decided to make things more equitable and they quickly found that meant making enemy is. This is the impact is show on the Vocs media podcast network about all the ways that policy affects people's lives.
Day. We are in lovely Vermont, sea land of maple syrup, beautiful foliage and
community from not really is about community is one big community. Another term would be community, the community really comes together and naturally, the people that take care of each other.
We will look at how curl and dull completely changed the way. The entire state peace for education, how they forced promoters,
rethink who belongs in a community and how they created a policy experiment that put equality front and centre in Vermont School funding back in the nineties, Vermont funded at school, like most other states, funded their schools. Property wealth played a really big role to understand what that means, and why
wasn't really equitable picture this scene from the classic. Ninety succumb, friends, the friend
settling down at a restaurant to celebrate Monica recent promotion, Phoebe and
Joel are slipping through the menu that this crisis is a pretty
King avid friends. Watchers might remember that Rachel and Phoebe are not rich, they're kind of like the weightings out their farming communities, the dawn of expensive properties. So they don't have much tax money to spend the education menu prices, look really steep to them, but Rachel babies, friends, Monica Ross are like the rich scheme
How soon when the waiter comes to them I'll start with a crackpot jail and then I'll have grill fonts,
Ross ordered these big four meals if they were schools daily
a new roof. Maybe some high speed wifi for dessert, Rachel and Phoebe O K. I will have the sites. What would that be on the side of I don't know. I can't you just put it right here. Next to my water: that's the equivalent of buying carpet to cover up asbestos tiles. The two poor friend suffer through their tiny meals and then the bills.
Comes Kate. Everyone owes thirty three. Fifty a peace now no way about beliefs. Will you just pay for what we have no big deal for you in the friends universe? This is a solution. Everyone pays for what they ate. That's there
But if the friends went out for dinner, every single night, then Phoebean Rachel would get
Greer and hungrier, because they beating appetizers every day for the rest of their lives. The way that most states paper education is just like this rich towns raise money for schools easily. They can, even by extras at Helstone, Vicarage Ale and then I'll have grilled HANS towns that don't have expensive houses detects there like Phoebean Rachel. They have to skimp and save to afford, even aside salad, on the edge
Romania, that's why schools and poor towns, all across Vermont, were really struggling back in the nineties. There were guidance counselor working in bathrooms. Schools had classrooms with leaky floors and mould issues. Some had poor heating that couldn't get them through the cold Vermont winters. Meanwhile, some property, rich towns were rolling up laptops, further students. They were offering chinese classes in the first grade
France Beaumont. This was aware of this. He was bothered by it and he wasn't the only one birds at a point in time there
few of us who were very much committed to urge equity inequality,
in a fair shake for places like quality bill started meeting up with other people frustrated with this exact problem, including this eternity mean Bob Ginsburg essence past.
Way, but back in the nineties, he was running around in Vermont laws. Looking for a solution and he
Who does something really important about the Vermont constitution? It says the state has to provide education and that education has to be equal. Things did not look cool at all, so by
along with Bill and ACL you and some others. They decided to sue the state of Vermont
It will save. Where can I go find a plaintive?
being screw other system, so built took him to Whiting, where he
Carol, was presenting probably the library and ATO Valley, and we will
tell him the factual charge scenarios and grass insane favour the idea, town that paid a very large amount of taxes,
a very minimal amount of money and was going broke doing at Bill and Bob were telling them weightings. Taxes
making a bigger dent in waiting wallets than killing tins taxes are, but waiting still is left with less money to spend on schools. Thus, not fair Bob wanted to argue that it wasn't fair in front of the courts to say, and we ve never more fair way of funding schools all across Vermont, but he couldn't bring the case without a plaintive
been performed by all of us. He needed a student and they wanted a young student who would still be in school by the time the suit was done thinking. It was gonna, be years and years and years and years that's where Carol came in with her six year old daughter, a man whose name was the top because of alphabetical order
said Carroll. Do you want to be applied in this case?
To my surprise, she said you here: why is well you pay a price on you. Do something like this.
People are? Not shy. Town leading sailor call people named them. Tell you
what they really think of you and,
Get real ugly Carol, didn't know how ugly things? What gets
day in the local library. She just wanted to take a stand for school equality. She agreed to be part of a lawsuit. I was very rude to my husband,
and even ask go home, and I said we're going to sign up for this lawsuit where there are a couple of hearings. Carol went to one with
We rode over with bill math. Is that that day yet was top because she did not want to know Amanda wasn't third grade at that point and still really really shy. She did not like being the centre of attention, those of the days that my husband said you don't
we need to take her. You know she can stay home and I really do- and I said this is to help every kid in Burma, and so so she went the case actually made its way through the courts in two
short years. The final ruling came out on February fifth, nineteen, ninety seven and the court sided with the Brigham's. The decision basically said
look right now, some communities are doing great, others are doing terribly. The schools are not equal. Therefore, the way Vermont Fun schools is unconstitutional, but the court didn't hat, say: ok, here's how to make things equal. It just said
fix it and then go down too.
Kay. Now they wonders thing. What do we do now? We ve got the cat,
in the end, it was the Vermont legislature that had to figure out. How do we make things equal? What they created was,
really different way of splitting the
at the education restaurant they didn't by passing, to laws at sixty and act sixty apes. Let's go back to our friends example. We saw that everyone
four, exactly what they ate doesn't work Phoebe and Rachel and Whiting can barely afford side salads, Ross and Monica killing. Ten can get fancy grilled prawns without even making a dent in their bank accounts. It's just not fair
but what, if everyone ordered full meals still according to taste but reasonably priced Monica, maybe get spaghetti and Rachel gets like a chicken dish. So for me, every one eats and now
they have a super, a nice dinner and then, at the end of the meal they dont split the bell evenly. Instead, if Ross
more money than Rachel. He pays part of her bell. Basically, this is what Vermont Dead and as a way to fund schools. It was unusual, that's totally different. That's nobody! Nobody does that the harvest Stadler does research at a nonprofit called at build a few years ago. There going through all these spreadsheets and papers to build a database of how schools get funded
America they're going state by state and sing, basically the same local property tax model over and over, it's amazing that we take for granted that how
income, your area is- will have something to do with how good your school as there is no law of nature. That says that, if you
around and see nice houses that probably means a better school, but then they got to Vermont. In that connection between nice houses and nice schools, it wasn't there, they were seeing something totally different await a fun schools that surprised them. That's kind of magic here is how the magic happens. Your school district,
approves a budget and it says here's how much we plan to spend per student this year, Atomic Whiting
on ten goes to the menu picks out an education option they still get
money on whatever they want, maybe this year they want to order science equipment with a sight of new textbooks. The states as great that's totally up to you, that's the local decision. Everybody gets through
occasional fell and at the end of the meal, there is one big bill for all Vermont School districts and all those districts pay into a pool, but the costs are not spread evenly if you're, richer
The system actually asks you to pay a higher rate. Then you other
I would add, if you're a poorer community, then the system- I see you to pay a lower rate than you. Otherwise, what.
If killings in waiting ordered the same meal killing them,
it's a little more money into the pool waiting puts in a little less but the same meal. It makes the same proportional dent in everyone's volume
and in case you're wondering if you order the educational equivalent of like filet Mignon, you wanna, planetarium or whatever you have to pay an extra fine, just keep everyone from God.
A little to wild. All of this was
brand new to remind it was pretty
due to the United States. Vermonter actually came up with new terms to describe the two types of towns the system created. There were rich, sending pounce that sent money out into the state and less affluent receiving towns that got some extra money. The whole complicated system only works, if you think of all these districts sitting down together
as friends, one big community, the state of Vermont splitting a bill in a way that leaves everyone full and happy. But when this law passed in ninety ninety seven things started to get a little tense at four months. Big dinner table the richer school districts mostly saw their taxes going up a lot, and then they saw that money leaving their commute
Eddie it was bitter. It was me. I had my tyres punctured
It was very violent. The intensity of it was a huge carols husband and his family came from one of those richer towns.
Carols family are part of her distant realities of never forgive him, so that was wrong. There
Also, a lot of name calling rich town started, calling the poor towns shark towns. We talk to one Vermont journalists, David good men, at the time he was living in one of those so called shark towns, but it was right near a rich town, ASCII community called Stow, which was a circle.
Called town or sending town, and there is this one day he was driving his daughter to stow first skating, lessons and stretched across the room.
It was a sign saying, keep us out of the short pool,
and my daughter asked who were the sharks and I had to tell her well that would be us. The hostility got so bad that Carol, wouldn't even tell people
who she wise, because her name it was right there on the lawsuit, Brigham verses Vermont, I just when even
than. If I went anywhere no name tat was on me. It was really hard to get Carol to talk to us. She is protective of herself and her family and doesn't really trust people to tell her story,
Thirdly, even though this all happened two decades ago, it still feels pretty raw vermin
emphasizes community a lot. We heard this word again and again in our interviews, but we got the sense that the community that really matters to People
is the smaller, more local community, not the state as a whole, which might explain why Carol got so much pushed back even in our own small town,
Texas, went down and Whiting because of the new law. But some people weren't happy about this fix coming from the safe government
they don't like things for Montpelier State, Capitol,
Mandates things that, Sir, while the case was happening, some people try to convince curled. Stop some people try to take her off the school board. It was stressful, yes, but through all of it she remain steadfast. I refuse to quit, so I will I can.
At last people you now. I guess that's hours brought up. You make a decision, you stick with it. You did it for good reason in you're, gonna follow through in finnish finish the job current bills, work paid off, waiting school got a roof. They got new tiles, they hired
I could teach her full time in a kind of came back to normal, with a little like can read. Now we can continue. There were more fall potluck there were more pancake. Breakfasts Amanda had our sixth grade graduation, but this moment of rest, where everyone could catch their breath, it turns out. It was only temporary
after the break a challenge, no one saw coming.
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who does not withdrawal side, credit that expires in fourteen days, restrictions apply, see terms at sports booked out, fan dual dotcom gambling problem call one eight hundred gambler an interesting coming to see this school, but to know that their sort of another period of transition happening, and I wonder if you can talk about that a little by little. My I worry about a worry about it. A great deal. Welcome back to the impact before the break. We told you
story of four months: experimental, equalize education funding. It wasn't easy, but it helped communities like Whiting save their schools. This is Vermont addition, I'm Kane Lindholm
January, as the legislature started, the second half of the biennium looking at how to change the way education is funded in Vermont. This method of funding public schools has lasted twenty years, so its due for an overhaul. Vermont might change things up all over again to address Vermont shrinking student population. Romance population is
and that means fewer kids in school. In the nineties, there were about a hundred thousand students in four months. Now the state is down to about eighty five thousand. This is a problem because schools have a lot of fixed costs, things like the building and its water and electricity and the heat. If you have your students, those costs don't go down, you're just spending more on each student, so the cost per student is just going up and up, and so our taxes for months magic funding formula worked well, but it was not designed for shrinking schools. It's starting to show cracks so incomes. A new plan in twenty fifteen, the state legislature, past act. Forty six, a lotta deals with school district consolidation, consolidation. It means taking little school.
Tricks bringing them together, so they can pool their resources and their students. Its advocates question whether tiny schools are offering an equitable education and they say by merging with nearby districts. Everyone might benefit. This is
new kind of equality for Vermont schools. It does not guarantee that you have a well funded squirrel in your town for months, new definition of equality,
it means or student, has a well funded seats somewhere. Maybe in your town.
Maybe it a town near by those in Vermont nearby might mean over a mountain or across the river. A tricky trip to make every day, especially in the winter, is forces as making this a Suzanne, the school administrator at waiting school. My producers burden Gillian, went to visit
a spring- and she showed them around, there were these little handed maiden, strung up by your desk, donated by some one in town and the walls in the hallway were covered with drawings and cut out and colorful posters. How are you,
I've been here for twenty eight years, my kids or here in Verona, grandchildren? Now here,
I live here in town as well and to meet very, very sad to see the school
in our country school, like an asthma waiting, was
right in the middle of the first big experiment in Vermont School funding, and now it is
right in the middle of this new consolidation plan. Right now,
two Suzanne walked around the school. She told us the reason,
started, sharing buildings and kids with another small towns Sudbury
so we have twenty three students here and then we have sixty preschoolers monsieur principle. Less.
Your kids from waiting went to Sudbury for third grade up and Sudbury kids and preach. Eight through second grade came the weighting the state said it was a lot more cost effective,
I can understand why I mean money in and stuff, but NASA towns person. I do feel that we ve lost something. You know things tat. We ve done as a community is kind of gun to decide now cause we murdered Sudbury. So we D laughings together. So now we're too big for our small community events that we have the community potluck dinner, the pancake breakfast, those are gone,
because there's no building big enough to fit everyone from both schools would do a musical or not doing. I hear the sheer even that six grave graduation ceremony that Amanda did and Carol did and Suzanne KIDS did. Suzanne keeps flipping between the present in the past tense. When she talks about it, the kids would write up things that they remembered funny things that have happened:
their life here, a lot of started when there were three years old, so they ve been here since eight years now, waiting school doesn't have any six craters, I'm not sure exactly. What can I do this year? Was there and I hear
And waiting school might change even more in the coming years. After our reporting trip, they actually ended up merging with a third school system. The building just offers pre kindergarten now and of class sizes. Keep shrinking that my change again, the
they might become an I t, centre or community library? It's all unclear it'll, be differ, little, definitely different, and will you be working here? I've decided to stay because with the change of scene,
often people when they would be anybody in this building. That would now the clearly or the school and say this is still my school still. My town, yellow.
The person we really wanted to hear from on all this was Carol Brigham. It just seems so sad. She had done all this work. She fought this court fight. Can all this backlash from people all across the state? She did it all to keep her school and schools across Vermont, open and thriving. She did it to make things more equitable. Now the school might be
choosing to make things more, equitable course, ancillary side, when my producers, Julian and Bird, met her in person at waiting school, she wasn't feeling, while she did
We want to dwell on sadness. Carol did want to talk about equality, though she says the old law it equalized funding for each community, squirrel and communities could decide what was most important further community equality meant equal access to money, and then districts got to choose how to spend it. This new consolidation stuff this act, forty six, it overhauls that definition, the weight forty six got pushed in was equity in everything, it's more about making sure students get access to the same resources, even if that means a bunch of communities all lumped together in one bigger school. But when you're talking community beauty is well, we don't want what they ve got our committee.
We find this much more important and whatever it is, maybe that's having a close knit town with six great graduations. So when you talk about equity, you have to understand who you working with and what will
make it more equal for them. You have to talk on their level and and then
not make them like you make them who they need to be four, whether one lip and that's what gets lost in equity.
Waiting, is a tiny town only about four hundred people live there and that just might be too few to sustain a school, the economics of consolidation. They make a lot of sense. On the other hand, waiting is a tiny tone. The general store close down recently the school is the center of the community. It used to bring people together and if it
the way that might be a huge blow. It can make it a lot harder for a tiny community like waiting to survive.
Schools are always so much more than schools.
They are bound up in all these emotions around childhood and community, so there might never
a funding law that comes as an easy effects. Vermont has spent decades searching for that policy, and so far they still have.
Found that this absurd was produced and cover forty eight by me, Bird Pinkerton was evident
by Amy draws Dasa our senior producer, who also helped with reporting, was Gillian Wine burger. We remain
and scored by Jared Paul and our theme song is by jukebox, the ghost we had other music by blue dot session
Maybe I am no. I'm has withheld Paddington Bare and Christs Briski Anna
Saint Marie stabbed in to help record one of our most important conversations. So thank you, Anna
also launched during your french Ellen
Albert Polish Fellow and Jean Collins. They took a lot of time out of their busy days to explain the history of formal education policy to us and, as always, think huge, Alison Rocky for her help. If you had thoughts about
Episode or want to tell us about policies in Vermont or elsewhere that we should be covering. Please email, ass, your thoughts. We are an impact
max dot com, its impact
Transcript generated on 2021-09-11.