Representatives from small schools across Vermont attended the State Board of Education meeting in Rutland on Wednesday to try to convince the board not to change the state’s Small School Grants program.
The Legislature has directed the state board to come up with new measurements for deciding which schools get the annual grants, and the board members have to make a decision on those new metrics before June 30.
The small school grants can be as much as $100,000 a year, and for some small schools that means a classroom teacher and paraeducator in a school that might only have four or five classrooms.
Parents, board members and residents from Peacham, Marlboro, Dummerston, Barnard and Newport went before the board to talk about how important the grants are in maintaining schools in small towns.
David Kelley, from Greensboro, cautioned the board from penalizing small schools, and said there were far-reaching consequences when a town loses its school.
“As elementary schools close in small rural communities, there is less reason for young couples with children to move to those towns,” Kelley told the board. “Property values decline, tax bases erode, and more and more the heartbeat of a town flatlines.”
The debate at this point centers around just how the state will decide which schools will receive the grants after July 2019.
The board will continue considering student-to-staff ratios, but they are also looking at driving distance and how close the nearest schools are. And issues like weather, geography and road conditions are coming into play.
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“Some of the changes being discussed seem designed to make almost all schools ineligible, essentially ending the grant program,” said Pamela Fraser, from Barnard. “We believe that commitments to equity and excellence require supporting some smaller schools and the students that attend them.
"And this means weighing qualitative issues with quantitative ones. Specifically this involves weighing the impact of long daily bus rides on young children that would occur if schools were to close.”
Lawmakers also directed the State Board of Education to look at academic indicators like test scores, but the board is grappling with how to do that, especially when considering issues like poverty and the smaller test score groups that smaller schools have.