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What is the Cost of an Adequate Vermont High School Education?

Access to an adequate education has been widely considered an undeniable right since Chief Justice Warren stated in his landmark decision that “Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments…it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education” (Brown vs. Board of Education, 1954). State constitutions establish rights to public education. State legislatures define expected outcomes and funding mechanisms to operate schools. Over the past sixteen years, plaintiffs have overwhelmingly prevailed in court cases where they have claimed that children have been denied access to an adequate education. Close scrutiny of state education finance systems revealed that few states had seriously attempted to determine objectively the amount of resources actually required to meet children’s learning requirements (Rebell, 2006). The purpose of this study is to assist policy makers in efforts to link resources with expected and mandated outcomes. The central question addressed is “what is the cost of an adequate high school education?” Recommendations focus on: 1) how an adequate education should be defined; 2) understanding conditions that affect student outcomes; 3) using successful school smart practices to allocate resources; and 4) the cost of adequacy. Findings from this study identified three spending thresholds. Vermont high schools that spent below $10,006/ pupil in total “current expense,” below $685/pupil in student support services, or below $595/pupil in administrative services, were very unlikely to have provided an adequate education. The statewide cost of adequacy requires an additional 4.2% in spending per pupil if all schools spend at the threshold level (based on 4 year averages 2002-2005). Recommendations articulate the need for policy makers to accept responsibility for setting student-outcome standards within a framework that considers student needs and the resources they are willing to appropriate to achieve mandated results. State funding incentives for allocating resources to schools must be reconsidered to address the inequitable system presently in place. Further research which articulates smart practices related to governance systems, school leadership, experiential learning opportunities, and instructional methods is necessary.
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