Home > Uncategorized > A Memo to Vermont Legislators: You Can Only Use “New Money” Once… NOW is the Time to Deliberate on Where to Spend that Money… NOW is NOT the Time to Decide

A Memo to Vermont Legislators: You Can Only Use “New Money” Once… NOW is the Time to Deliberate on Where to Spend that Money… NOW is NOT the Time to Decide

March 29, 2021

Vermont Digger reporter Lola Duffort’s article in today’s local front page has this headline: “School Meals Funding Debated”. The headline captures the nature of a debate going on now in the Vermont legislature over a bill to cover the cost of all school meals in Vermont and to encourage that schools use Farm-to-Table programs to provide those meals. This is a noble idea, but paying for this program would require either a direct or indirect increase in local property tax. This led former Commissioner of Education Rebecca Holcomb to weigh in with her perspective:

It’s a win-win for Montpelier, which gets praise for feeding kids and supporting farms, while giving over ever more of your local school budget to an unfunded mandate your board can’t touch.

When the Legislature takes a progressive idea and funds it regressively, it’s not progressive. It’s good politics, but bad policy.

Ms. Duffort does a good job of describing the arcane Vermont funding formula and how the various revenue streams recommended by the State legislature could cover some of the costs of the initiative. But in the end, Rebecca Holcomb is correct: local taxes would be needed to cover some of the costs. The advocates for the bill though, see things differently:

….backers of the universal meals proposal argue it is well worth the money, particularly in a time of heightened food insecurity.

And they argue that with schools flush with federal cash — albeit temporarily — and cannabis sales taxes soon expected to bolster the Education Fund, schools can ultimately absorb the cost.

To my way of thinking, this last line underscores the need for the Vermont legislature to take a long deep breath. Clearly the use of one-time federal funds is NOT appropriate for launching a program that will require sustained funding into the future… and to make a commitment to use an ongoing revenue stream for food insecurity in schools without considering other needs at the state level would be foolhardy. And if, as the advocates suggest, we are now in a time of “heightened food insecurity”, NOW would NOT be the best time to expand school meals for EVERYONE. One this gets into budgets, it is not coming out… and many Vermont school districts would NOT spend their next discretionary dollar on school lunch.

Categories: Uncategorized
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