Gov. Peter Shumlin called on lawmakers Tuesday to fix the spending mechanism in the new education law known as the Allowable Growth Percentage before school budgets go to the printer in mid-January.
"I want the legislature to act on this before school boards are submitting their budgets to voters in time for the printer," Gov. Shumlin told reporters.
He said his office has some ideas that would help dull the budgetary scythe put into place with passage of Act 46, but they aren't ready to be shared with the public.
"I think there are ways to solve this problem," Shumlin said before adding that there is consensus that the spending caps need tweaking. "We have a responsibility to make sure the school boards have predictability when they submit their budgets to voters."
The Allowable Growth Percentage keeps statewide education spending at 2 percent by only allowing school districts budgets to grow between 0.0 and 5.0 percent in FY17. Varying from district to district, the rate ranges between 0 percent and 5.5 percent and is based on how much a school district spent per equalized student in the previous year. The more a district spent in the prior year, the lower the allowable growth rate for the next. If a district goes over the line, it triggers a double tax on additional spending.
School boards have been put in a very difficult position by this aspect of the law since many are committed to salary increases and a 7.9 percent rise in health care expenses for school personnel.
On November 18, the House Committee on Education met to hear testimony from various stakeholders about the spending cap. There are real concerns that the cap could cause taxes to go up and hurt the quality of education in some districts. Both the House and Senate will have to come up with a solution and vote upon it before the end of the second week in January to provide the relief the Governor has called for.
"More difficult challenges have been conquered in the past," said Gov. Shumlin.