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Vermonters for Better Education
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Where We Are: Vermont Education Spending and Quality
Reprinted with permission from the May 2000 Vermont Economy Newsletter, by Art Woolf

Vermont’s spending on elementary and secondary education stood at $7,200 per student in the 1996-97 school year.  That is the most recent year for which comprehensive data are available from the recently released U.S. Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics.  That level of spending, which does not include capital or debt service costs, ranked Vermont eleventh highest in the nation. The highest spending state was New Jersey, at $10,200.  The lowest was Utah at $4,050 and the national average was $6,400.

That Vermont spending level represents the last year of pre-Act 60 education finance.  What’s happened since then? The U.S. DOE reports the following trends for Vermont:

  Year    Current Expend.  Total Expend.
                  ($ million)           ($ mill)
  96-97        $718.1             $832.4
  97-98          707.1                 na
  98-99          704.3                 na

Did Vermont education spending fall after Act 60?  No. We have reasons to doubt the accuracy of the federal data. The 1997-98 data are estimates provided by the Vermont DOE. But in its internal publications, Vermont DOE estimates that the 1996-97 total was $680 million. The 1998-99 data are estimates from the U.S. DOE. ...

What are we to make of this? First, the state DOE continues its policy of not reporting accurate or timely data to the U.S. DOE.  Second, spending did not fall after Act 60 was enacted. So comparisons of Vermont to other states after 1996-97 cannot be accurately made at this date. Given what we know about property taxes and general fund spending, we are most likely still near the top 10 in per student spending.

Accounting for High Costs

Vermont’s education spending is high for a number of reasons. The most important is our high level of staffing. In the fall of 1997, Vermont had 13.4 students per teacher, the lowest in the nation (editor’s note: see “Snapshot” box for last year’s data).  The U.S. average was 16.9.

Vermont’s average teacher’s salary in 1997-98 was $36,100, about $3,000 below the national average.  That differential is nearly identical to Vermont’s percentage difference from the U.S. per capita income.

Simple math tells us that if Vermont had a student/teacher ratio equal to the U.S. average, the savings in teacher salaries would be $59 million, or $560 per student. That would put our per student spending only slightly over the national average and on a level similar to Indiana, Illinois, or Ohio.


Our higher than average spending does not translate into higher measurable outcomes for Vermont Students. Last year, we reported on the limited comparisons we could make between Vermont and the U.S. using standardized tests on the performance of 4th and 8th grade students. We have no more recent data to report this year.

We do have new SAT score information for 1997-98. Vermont’s combined SAT scores were slightly below the U.S. average.

We fail the Lake Wobegone test when we adjust for the racial composition of Vermont’s student body, which is 98 percent white. Vermont significantly underperforms the U.S. if we compare the Vermont (white) score to the U.S. white score.

            SAT Scores 1997-98
                  Verbal      Math    Total
VT              508      504        1012
U.S.            505      512        1017
U.S. White  526      528        1054
As in past years, these indicators tell us that Vermont spends a lot on public education and there is no evidence that we get anything other than average results for our high level of spending.

Vermont Education Snapshot ('98-99)
Source: Vermont Department of Education —

Total School Enrollment: 105,106 
Student/Teacher ratio: 12.8 
Eligible Special Education: 11.8% 
Home Study: 1,560 

Number of Students per computer: 5.4 
Number of students per “new generation” computer: 13.8 

Students receiving Free and Reduced Lunch: 26.4% 

Scholastic Aptitude Test (high school students): 
Percent of seniors who took SATs: 62 
Mean SAT Verbal (highest possible score is 800): 514 
Mean SAT Math (highest possible score is 800): 506 

Statewide Standards:  Vermont Framework of Standards and Learning 
Statewide Assessments:  Portfolios and New Standards Reference Exam (NRRE) 
Note: Vermont did not participate in the National Assessment of Education 
Progress (NAEP) tests in 1998 
but will do so next year. 

Setting Goals < | >  Goal #1: School Choice

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